The Force Behind Guggenheim’s Nudie Show

On the evening of April 23, 15 beautiful models were assembled, battalionlike, in the rotunda of the Solomon R. Guggenheim

On the evening of April 23, 15 beautiful models were assembled, battalionlike, in the rotunda of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, where they were meant to stand in little more than five-inch Gucci heels for two and a half hours while a couple hundred guests milled around them. Ten of the women wore skimpy, sparkling Gucci bikinis, five wore nothing but foundation makeup. The exercise was a performance piece called SHOW , the brainchild of Vanessa Beecroft, a New York artist, and the latest production by Yvonne Force, a bright young art consultant.

Ms. Force has quickly made a name for herself in the art world. With financial backing from Laurance Rockefeller, the 87-year-old venture capitalist and son of the founder of the Museum of Modern Art, Ms. Force, a 1988 graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, has been able to move in fairly adventurous circles. Earlier this year, she curated an exhibition of contemporary Chinese art at Lehmann Maupin Gallery, the Rem Koolhaas-designed space in SoHo. She also put together the art collection for Lot 61, the West Chelsea nightclub and restaurant that was designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects. The collection includes works by Damien Hirst, Sean Landers and David Salle.

One of Ms. Force’s staunchest supporters is Mr. Rockefeller. Frazier Seitel, a spokesman for Mr. Rockefeller, said Ms. Force has “consulted Mr. Rockefeller” on “emerging artists,” which Mr. Seitel maintains is “decidedly an interest of his.” He confirmed that Mr. Rockefeller was a financial backer of Ms. Force’s business, whose office is at 30 Rockefeller Center. Regarding talk that Mr. Rockefeller is forming a collection with the help of Ms. Force, Mr. Seitel said, “She is just an adviser. This is not dissimilar to what his mother, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, did many years ago in beginning the Museum of Modern Art. That’s really what Laurance uses Ms. Force for. She advises him on emerging art.”

Ms. Force would not be interviewed for this story. But she told the Daily News that she started work on SHOW a year ago. She convinced the Guggenheim to donate the building for the evening. She coaxed Tom Ford, the Gucci designer, into lending the bikinis and shoes. Even Condé Nast editorial director James Truman pitched in.

But SHOW has been cautiously received. It’s the most ambitious project so far for Ms. Force, judging from her résumé. Although SHOW ‘s organizers were expecting a review from New York Times critic Roberta Smith, the only article on the event has been a tittering gossip item that appeared in the Daily News . A number of people who were at the event said that they were disturbed by what they saw as the subjugation of women in the name of art-a possible reason for The Times ‘ silence; no review is no comment.

Or maybe the cold reception was because what happened that evening was not what had been planned. The women were originally meant to stand erect like statues for the entire two and a half hours and were asked not to look at or talk to anyone. But a half-hour into the event, a number of them looked bedraggled and had begun to lie down and stretch, or crouch and even take off their shoes.

After the Daily News article appeared, Ms. Beecroft refused to grant another interview. But in an artist’s statement in the program for SHOW , she wrote hopefully: “The aim of the piece is to create an image of liberty with no limits given in the representation of a group of women posed at attention.”

Jennifer Starr, a casting director for photographer Bruce Weber who was enlisted to hire the models for SHOW , said even she was unsure about the piece at first.

“At first I was hesitant about working for Yvonne,” said Ms. Starr. “I didn’t know if I understood why it was empoweringfor women to be standing there in a group, nude or seminude. Then I understood, and it became about finding other women who understood as well. Not all women did.”

She scoured agencies like Elite Model Management, Ford Modeling Inc. and Wilhelmina Models Inc., but had to go elsewhere for the nude models.

“Seeing 15 to 20 women all with the same attitude is a very powerful image,” Ms. Starr said decidedly.

To catch a glimpse of that attitude, Mr. Rockefeller, and anyone else who was not at the Guggenheim on April 23, will soon be able to purchase a 20-minute video cassette of SHOW , which was filmed by Ms. Beescroft for E.M. Productions.

Confession in Chelsea

“I didn’t get along with Catholic school,” said Los Angeles-based painter Ed Ruscha. “I went one year. I had some trouble there, and my parents decided that maybe I shouldn’t go back. It was some silly little thing in the first grade. I took a pocketknife to school with me, and it created a big furor. Something as innocent as that. Merely the fact that I took it with me and showed it to somebody. Then, it grew beyond control, and I had already had my fingers spanked with a ruler before by Sister Daniela. It just got so that I didn’t like to go to school because I would always have to face her and I was miserable.”

Eight of Mr. Ruscha’s paintings are on display in a show called Three Catholics: Warhol, Ruscha & Mapplethorpe through June 27 at the Cheim & Read gallery in Chelsea. Like those of Andy Warhol and Robert Mapplethorpe, the origins of the images in most of Mr. Ruscha’s work is the Catholic Church, which he left at the age of 18 when he arrived in Los Angeles.

“When I left Oklahoma and came to the big city, I just left it all behind me. Hypocrisy and everything else,” Mr. Ruscha explained. Speaking of his seminal word painting SIN , Mr. Ruscha added, “I never believed in this, ‘You are sin. You are dead for eternity’ … The imagery, though, I always thought, was very seductive. Just the smell of incense, the icons and marble floors and all those foxy vestments and everything had some sort of allure.”

Mr. Ruscha is putting the finishing touches on a 23-foot-long painting of shafts of light that has recently been installed in the lobby of the auditorium at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. The Getty painting uses Mr. Ruscha’s Miracle Drawings , a series completed in the 1960’s, as its prototype, and it might make some people believe that Mr. Ruscha has had a spiritual awakening. But that is not the case.

“If anything, I left the so-called spiritual awakening behind when I left Oklahoma,” Mr. Ruscha said. “I’m not trying to say anything religious.”

The Force Behind Guggenheim’s Nudie Show