In an age where Damien Hirst errata have joined gold and United States government bonds in the shrinking pantheon of safe investments, can contemporary art still be dangerous?
More to the point, can contemporary art be dangerous when it’s held in something of a polyurethane uterus, a haute-culture billboard designed by deconstructivist goddess Zaha Hadid, deposited on Rumsey Playfield in Central Park (after stints in Hong Kong and Tokyo), and paid for by Chanel—in these hard times is Lagerfeld really the Teutonic Karl we need?—whose iconic quilted handbag the melting plastic womb is said, implausibly, to resemble?
In a word, yes, if the traumas suffered by the Daily Transom at last night’s opening party for the so-called CHANEL Contemporary Art Container—styled “Mobile Art”—are any indication.
Dangerous indeed: Oh, how nasty and brutish existence on the red carpet! And short, too. One moment, you’re admiring Padma Lakshmi as she removes, on the coldest night of the season so far, a leather-and-cashmere simulacrum of an overcoat to pose in pitch-black and skin-tight Chanel—that “what are you wearing” icebreaker would be more aggressively superfluous than usual this evening. The next, a biting gust comes out of the northeast, snapping off a cadet branch of an American elm (Ulmus Americana)—a significant branch, 10 inches long, perhaps a quarter-inch in diameter—and sending it hurtling through the air, past your temple and toward your scribbling right hand; as your pen’s life flashes before your eyes (it was a gloriously smooth Pilot rollerball), the grenade hits with all the crystalline immediacy of Ms. Hadid’s tragically unrealized 1994 design for the Cardiff Bay Opera House in Wales, say, or Mr. Lagerfeld’s cosmically unreal fall couture show held this past June in Paris’ Grand Palais. Ouch!
Thus grotesquely drenched in ink and blood—prissily “embedded” war correspondents take note—the Daily Transom happily happened upon a way to turn misfortune into, if not fortune, then at least less misery. (The ink was seeping into the wound at this point, and—thanks to the uncommon success of the Central Park Conservancy—there was, in the ominous canopy above, plenty more where that came from.) Which is to say, the publicity folks let the D.T. into the party to fix himself over at what’s probably called “Mobile Loo”—and so, freed from the media hordes, he basted in the glow of the flawlessly wonderful, and well-mannered and -born, third-tier celebrities who would have arrived by 7:30, and, of course, the spaceship.
“If devoting so much intellectual effort,” Nicolai Ouroussoff chastised Tuesday morning in The Times, “to such a dubious undertaking might have seemed indulgent a year ago, today it looks delusional.” Fine, point taken, but surely it must be something that Chanel has executed the first building in New York that looks like the baby, and hums like the infrastructure, from Eraserhead. (And really, the usually marvelous Mr. Ouroussoff should know better than to extol Fredrick Law Olmstead‘s “social mixing”—this, after all, was the man who wanted to replace Harlem’s egalitarian street grid with a bourgeois enclave of winding lanes and pastoral cul-de-sacs.)
All the early partiers seemed to be referring to Ms. Hadid’s creation as “the tent.”
Some 20 minutes of aesthetic epilepsy later, not much had changed in Arrivals. Ms. Lakshmi, current host of Bravo’s Top Chef and now-estranged age-inappropriate wife of insipid singer-songwriter Salman Rushdie, had been replaced by Katie Lee Joel, former host of Bravo’s Top Chef and not-yet-estranged age-inappropriate wife of fatwa’d post-colonial novelist Billy Joel.
Ms. Joel ratified the occasion. “I don’t think everyone should stop what they’re doing just because [of the economy.] This is art.”
In any case: “I didn’t grow up with a lot of money; I make mostly poor food. I’m from West Virginia. We grew up eating the same food all time.”
Ms. Joel recent met Barack Obama at a fund-raising concert co-headlined by her husband. “He’s so exhausted by campaigning—the one thing I’d serve him is comfort food.” Current polls find Mr. Obama still some six points down in West Virginia, but closing.
Helena Christensen appeared, wearing a tiara that had melted into a headband. She twirled and strutted and smoldered to a chorus of “this way!” and “over-the-shoulder” and “I need a two-shot”; when a publicity orderly tried to herd her toward an odd camera—from CNN it appeared—that took moving pictures, she turned suddenly stern. “This is fine, I’m not speaking tonight.”
Fabiola Beracasa was more playful, perhaps a function of the fact that she was among the few women here with the good sense to wear pants, even if they were silk. (Also, a diaphanous feather wrap which was unceremoniously handed to an available member of the media every time an on-camera interview was required.) Another was Fran Lebowitz—her trousers were rather thicker—who said the best compliment one could give her is, “You don’t look that tired.”
Ms. Beracasa too expressed empathy—or rather, sympathy—for the state of the economy. After all, slander about socialite idleness aside, this could have conceivably been called a business dinner for her; that is, she once spent a teenage summer interning for Mr. Lagerfeld at Chanel HQ.