The block between 7th and 8th Avenue on 23rd Street is not generally considered a hub of spirituality—though there is a Jewish temple and a Young Men’s Christian Association—but it was here on Thursday night that Glenn O’Brien, patriarch of Interview magazine, donned vestments and heard the sins of an art world that, between the parties for the Frieze Art Fair and major auctions, has probably been committing a lot of them.
Amid candlelight and incense in a room off the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel, the swimsuit model Michelle Vawer, who wore a latex nun’s costume, led the repentant to a soundstage confessional opposite two new pin-up-girl works by Richard Prince. Mr. O’Brien, who came up with the title editor-at-large for himself at High Times and now helms the Style Guy column in GQ, wore a biretta, but for the most part stuck to his side of the booth, occasionally shouting out juicier sins with a bullhorn that he kept in the booth for this purpose.
The event naturally attracted some art world luminaries, among them Tom Sachs, Hanna Liden, Wes Lang, Sam Orlofsky, Jeanne Greenberg and Harry Blaine, all of whom were understandably reticent to talk about what they planned to confess. Artforum publisher Knight Landesman pondered one possible sin out loud, then asked that it be taken off the record. Linda Yablonsky, caught right as she exited the confessional, refused even to narrow down the sin by category, like gluttony.
“My sins are not of the garden variety,” she explained. Well, what about her penance? “Tweet,” she said. “I’m supposed to tweet more. I wasn’t raised in the church, but I thought that was a very good penance.”
This would turn out to be a fairly standard atonement that evening. Three young women, who asked not to be named since they identified as lapsed Catholics, traded their amends in a circle.
“I was told to throw a picnic for my friends and family,” said the first.
“I’m supposed to only eat free-range meat and eggs, and floss twice a day,” went the second.
“He told me to avoid ‘Grindr.com,’” said the third. “I don’t even know what that is.”
Many of the event’s younger attendees had no idea who Mr. O’Brien is—and were even pretty hazy on what constituted a sin. The seven deadly sins weren’t in the Bible, right? But the Ten Commandments are. But then there are other sins not in the Ten Commandments? Where were they listed? And what exactly was Mr. O’Brien looking for anyway? Most seemed to run the risk of not being sinful enough.
“I told him I was disappointed in myself over some recent procrastination,” said Balaroma Heller, a photographer who was raised in the Hare Krishna faith and therefore at even more of a disadvantage than everyone else. “He was not impressed. He was like, ‘What the fuck, man? Why are you wasting my time with that? Just do whatever you were supposed to do during the week on Saturday.’”
At least two people, presumably confessing actual sins, cried in the confessional. All who confessed received a rolled-up poster of the new Prince works. But what if they don’t actually repent? What if they just say they’re going to, but don’t actually follow Father O’Brien’s instructions?
“We’ll accept that,” said dealer Bill Powers, who hosted the event with Cooke Maroney and distributed the posters himself. “It’s New York. People talk the talk. Sometimes that’s enough, right?”