Richard Merkin, R.I.P.

On Labor Day night we lost one of our great dandies and a singular character, the artist Richard Merkin, who passed away at home in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. Merkin was a painter, an illustrator for The New Yorker for many years, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, a columnist for GQ, a teacher at the Rhode Island School of Design, one of the great collectors of antique pornography, and one of the great flaneurs and boulevardiers of the late twentieth century.

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I met Merkin shortly after arriving in New York in the early seventies, through our mutual friend Jean-Paul Goude, and I found him almost intimidatingly charming and elegant. Merkin was a throwback, in terms of his sartorial splendor, but it was more than that. Merkin dressed almost as a revolutionary act, as if through ignoring the prevailing fashions he could challenge the cultural decline they expressed. Merkin adhered to a higher standard. He didn’t simply collect and wear old clothes, Merkin was a rebel in bespoke, designing his own garments, which he had tailored to his exacting specifications. Note the cuffs on his sleeves. He was a perfectionist to the smallest detail.

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Richard Merkin was born in Brooklyn in 1938 and he held degrees from Syracuse and RISD (where he served on the faculty for more than forty years), but no degrees are given anywhere for the sort of learning Mr. Merkin attained. He was a polymath in the arts of the cultural substrata, an historian of the nexus that determines style. His distinctive work hangs in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, and the Smithsonian Institution. Merkin was very successful as an illustrator, with many book covers and New Yorker drawings to his credit.

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Merkin was also an enormously influential figure among his students and among younger artists, setting an example for the idea that one needn’t be a part of a movement or follow the trends, and that the most rewarding path was blazing one’s own. As a painter he had a most distinctive style—astutely colorful, romantic, and dreamy.

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A connoisseur of the elusive and evanescent, Merkin knew a good and a rare thing when he saw it. Merkin’s personal porn stash was distinguished enough to be catalogued, as it was in Velvet Eden: the Richard Merkin Collection of Erotic Photography (Bell Publishing, 1985), with commentaries by Merkin and Bruce McCall. Merkin’s naughty collecting also resulted in Tijuana Bibles: Art & Wit in America’s Forbidden Funnies, 1930s-1950s (Simon & Schuster, 1997), which documents the popular publishing phenomenon of the mid-twentieth century in which popular cartoon characters like Blondie and Popeye went hardcore, behaving as they never did on Sunday.

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He illustrated Leagues Apart: The Men and Times of the Negro Baseball League, which a labor of love. Merkin was a huge baseball fan. In his later years he basically traded in his splendid tailored wardrobe for a casual style. I was shocked at first to see him at the Odeon, downtown, with his young protégé Duncan Hannah, dressed as if for a baseball game. But Merkin wasn’t dressed for a Yankees or Mets affair, but more like a 1948 baseball game, wearing a vintage silk barnstorming team jacket and a cap from one of the Negro League teams.

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Merkin’s renunciation of his dandy stance was a major cultural event, at least in my eyes. What did it mean? It seemed like a sort of self-imposed exile. Merkin, for lack of broad acclaim in the art capital, had taken himself to the woodshed upstate, to paint in relative anonymity amongst the rustics. His paintings continued to sell. His collages seemed to get better and better, but one felt a certain bitteness or bittersweetness in him at not being recognized for the marvel he was and the rare and subtle spectacle that he presented. Had Merkin left to punish himself for failing to seize the high ground in time? Or was he punishing us by denying the city his irreplaceable example and company? Probably both.

Probably the best circulated image of Merkin is the cover of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album. He’s in the back row along with Aleister Crowley, Mae West, Lenny Bruce, Carl Jung, and Bob Dylan. That was the league he belonged in. But these times are slow to recognize greatness in art, dress, personality, or spirit.

Merkin passed in his sleep, perchance in a dream, and hopefully will dwell in the Isles of the Blest.

Dear Dash Departed

Dash Snow is dead. The great Dash is gone.

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Photo by Olivier Zahm

I heard about it yesterday, when one of his best friends suddenly burst into tears and ran from the room. All I heard was the word "Dash," but I knew what had happened. Dash was a rope-walker by nature. He was an artist working up high, and the gravity got him. He'd fallen. I was surprised and stunned and saddened, but not shocked. He worked without a net. And with a high degree of difficulty.

Dash was a beautiful person and a genuine artist. A lot of people didn't get the genuine part because to them he was a gossip star, all image. But he was the real thing, and sometimes his real was so in your face that people thought it must have been an act. It was an act, of course, but it was a real act. When you live in a world that's inside a television there are no other options. But Dash and some of his friends were re-inventing what it is to be an artist, because that's something every generation has to do. They had gotten the lay of the land and were responding accordingly.

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I was delighted to meet Dash, because when people would ask me what young artists I liked I was embarrassed to name people who were forty. But some of these youngsters seemed to have something going on, like Nate Lowman and Ryan McGinley and Dan Colen…but none of them more so than Dash.

I thought of the little artist's book sitting in my living room that he had given me: "In the Event of My Disappearance." It turned out Dash had OD'd at the Lafayette House. Everybody said he'd been clean, clear, in good health. That's the way it goes. The day before Jean-Michel Basquiat died, he'd left a message on my machine—he was back from Hawaii, clean, and feeling great. A clean junkie lives with danger. The equation has changed. Ask Lenny Bruce.

After living through purgatory these brave boys were conned by junk. One more time. I'm sad but pissed off, again. I'm pissed off when I read the stupid blogs and comments. The worst thing about an artist dying is that he can't talk back. Dash can't say "Fuck you!" back, so I hope his friends say it for him. And to all of the glib fuckers who say he was not a good artist, let me just say: Fuck you, what do you know?

"In the Event of My Disappearance." I always thought that book, and quite a bit of Dash's work, was meant to foreshadow a dramatic demise that actually might not occur. It needn't have occurred. We all do a lot of foreshadowing during our youthful drama phase, but sometimes we wise up a bit. That's punk rock. Sid got dead; Johnny got smart.

I remember the first artist in New York I became friends with who I considered really old: Lil Picard, who had been one of the surrealists, and who impersonated Andy Warhol's mother in David Bailey's documentary on him. She must have been in her seventies when I met her in the seventies, my grandpa's age, and she said to me, "Every artist has to go through his drug crucifixion period." I was younger than Dash when she said that, but it stuck with me and I saw it again and again.

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The way Lil said it was so non-judgmental. It was like being told the facts of life, the ones your parents didn't know. Dash could have lived but death was one of his subject matters. Death and life.

Dash was good at life. He was lively. But he was one of those artists whose work was a process of self-testing, a documentation of his life.

Page two of "In the Event of My Disappearance:" A bag of heroin on a black background. Page three, a Hitler-head postage stamp. Page nine, words cut from a newspaper: "STOP SUFFERING." Page ten, a Polaroid of an empty, ruined swimming pool. Page fifteen, Michael Jackson in a bandana, with two of his children, in Spider-Man masks. Lots of beds, tattoos, beer, parties, clips from magazines, strange things found in streets and fields, and finally a newspaper clip: "Bandit downs self to end chase." And a Polaroid of a railroad track in the middle of nowhere, curving into the trees.

I called my friend Olivier in Paris. He knew, and he asked me why Dash would have been in the bathtub. I didn't know. Jim Morrison died in a bathtub, but that's a long story with lots of footnotes. And plenty of overdoses ended in a tub of cold water, as friends tried to revive a blue person, but no, Oliver said, Dash had been alone, door locked from the inside.

Dash Snow was a beautiful man. He was as much of a character as he looked. He looked like he worked on the Pequod and was in port for a laugh before going out after another white whale. With his hair and beard and tattoos and hats he looked like he'd walked out of the past, or maybe a more interesting future, and he certainly made a point of being out of time. He had a grace and nobility about him that was definitely not of our time. Maybe he was the most modern of us because he was so in revolt against the here and now. He was not available by telephone. He was not available. He made himself independent by excluding himself from the communications loop. He didn't want to be in that automatic conspiracy. He saw you when he wanted to, or let you contact him when and how he wanted. Which means he saw what was wrong with the here and now, as an artist should.

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No matter what the morons write, Dash was a hell of an artist. He was young but he was really, really good. I was at Christopher Wool's studio one day and I saw something hanging on the wall and said, "Wow, what's that?" and he said "Dash Snow. We did a trade." If Christopher does a trade with you then you're good. I hadn't seen a collage like that of his. He was getting mastery of his media. He was going to be a great one.

Too bad about the publicity. The first thing I saw on the Internet was "Warhol's Child Dies." At first I wondered what the hell that meant. I had forgotten the New York magazine cover story, "Warhol's Children," which had made Dash, Dan Colen, and Ryan McGinley into the next art movement—one apparently based on partying, self-indulgence, and decadence. They had let this writer, Ariel Levy, into their world and the writer had written it from the writer's point of view. Sensationalism! But, to be fair, it was considered sensationalism. What a surprise. The day after it came out I ran into Dash on his bike. He was mortified. I can't imagine what he expected. Sometimes not having a phone isn't enough. How could he have not known what would happen? What would be written. What people would say.

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Photo by Mr. Mort

It's a vicious circle. Artists have to be famous to work. Unless they are rich. Dash wasn't rich. He was penniless from a rich family, which is sort of the worst of both worlds. He was serious, but the readers and those to whom he was just a name, they wouldn't take him seriously. Which is why the work is important. The work is still alive.

But the dashing Dash raced to the finish. The thing is that he didn't know where that was. I guess you never do until you get there.

Yesterday afternoon the news was still percolating in my head. I looked for more information on the web and saw all these stupid comments about Dash joining "the 27 Club." I had been through all of this before with J-M.B. They couldn't wait to make him into Jimi Hendrix and Charlie Parker.

A song sort of started going around in my head. I hadn't played it in a long time, but I could still hear it—that oddball non-singer's voice chanting: "Junk is no good baby…no good baby is junk…no junk baby is good…good junk is no baby….no good no good no good."

That was a song recorded by a great Beat legend, the artist and writer Brion Gysin, in 1982 when he was 66. "Junk is no good baby…" It was going through my head.

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Brion knew what he was talking about. He'd been there, done that. That's why he performed "Junk is No Good Baby." He put it out as a single, produced by a young Frenchman named Ramuncho Matta, and then it came out on a CD along with other songs like "Kick That Habit." I met Gysin in Paris around that time. I remember his spectacular cough. He practically turned blue smoking a cigarette while we sat in Privilege in Paris, under Le Palace, and when he regained his breath he patted me on the knee and said, "My dear boy! I believed that I had breathed my last."

But Brion didn't breathe his last until 1986, when he died of lung cancer. Before he did he recorded a song called "Quit Smoking" that featured him coughing cancerously. It's horrible and it's fun. "Stop smokin' your joking….I'm chokin'….I'm croakin." It was released six years after he died.

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Brion Gysin

Gysin was an inspiration to William Burroughs. He invented the Dream Machine, which he, Burroughs, and others used as an oracle, a non-pharmaceutical means of consciousness alteration, and he devised the famous cut-up technique that was such an important method for Burroughs in such works as Naked Lunch. Brion was a great and amazing painter, whose work has not yet been properly assessed, but for him life was more important than work, and to be in his presence was a joy. He said, "I enjoy inventing things out of fun. After all, life is a game, not a career."

That's what the kids ought to know. It's not written.

The great Dash Snow is gone. Real gone. Dash is dead. Long live Dash.

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Photo by Mortensen

The Art World Experience

Please bear with me. This is not going to be easy. I just got back from Art Basel Miami Beach, which has become much, much more than a very large art fair. It is now a sort of a mega-convention in the classic, berserk, hog-wild, industry-wide sense. A convention, of course, is a place where people in the same line of work go ostensibly to do business, and then wind up doing everything else. But the art world consists of so many lines of work—imagine a convention that combines the qualities of the Raccoon Lodge, Trekkies, Tailhook, the Democrats, and the Republicans, and then embellish from there.

In old Hollywood movies, conventions were where married businessmen went to go wild with booze and babes. And there is a lot of going wild in Miami. Sometimes you can't tell the art dealers from the hookers without a business card. But A.B.M.B. is even more than a convention because the general public has taken it up like a spectator sport or a festival. It even partakes of pilgrimage in a sort of anti-Burning Man way. The dealers come to enrich themselves and the bourgeois come to improve their status, while yet others come more or less to rub against one another and get sticky in a validated context.

Me? I'm there to combine the opportunity to do a year's worth of gallery hopping in three days with the chance to get over the cough I've had for three weeks. I was also delighted to take Oscar, my seven-year-old son, to look at art and see what struck his fancy. And to do some laps in the pool at The Raleigh.

Here is a seven-year-old looking at art.


Every year that I have attended Art Basel Miami Beach I have come to a new realization. The year before last, it was that the art world is the ultimate consumer of fashion. Last year it was the idea that the art fair had surpassed the biennials, Documenta, and all of the other highbrow institutional conclaves, becoming the organizing model of the art world. Art is no longer run by philosophy but money.

This year I began to see the art world as something much bigger than I'd ever suspected. The art fairs are now various things to various people. They are, yes, the Big Convention. The big culture convention. And this year it seemed that the partying had reached a frenzied, non-stop, almost desperate level. But the art world has clearly moved into a larger place in our society. And it has to do with money. Which everyone was talking about.

I was talking about it officially, having been recruited to moderate a panel discussion on "The Worth of Art," which, coincidentally, is the title of a book by Judith Benhamou-Huet published by Assouline. She possessed the prettiest face and best French accent of the group, which also included David Ross, former director of the Whitney Museum and now curator of the Artist Pension Trust; Jeffrey Deitch, the P.T. Barnum of art dealers; and auctioneer Simon de Pury of Phillips de Pury.

There has been much talk about price, since Jeff Koons's heart sculpture sold at auction for more than $24 million, and since a Warhol quadrupled the previous record at $71 million this year. Here's an art work about big money—a wood burning by Tom Sachs:


Some have greeted the high prices with indignation or consternation. Jerry Saltz, the art critic of New York magazine, has argued that high prices become part of art's content, disrupting its meaning. Critic Dave Hickey, often a chiding voice of reason, claims that that the market has become a bubble, fed by "greedy artists and stupid collectors." And it is true that art buying has been so frenzied that people have compared the action to the Tulip Bubble of 1637. But while everyone on our panel agreed that prices are extraordinary, no one predicted that the bubble, if there is one, might burst.

Jeffrey Deitch sees the tremendous growth of the market as a natural byproduct of the transition to an "information culture." Mr. de Pury pointed out that there is unprecedented liquidity in the market and that it may be that things are just getting warmed up, as more and more players enter the market. Mr. Ross and I pointed out that the art market enjoys many advantages over other financial markets in that is opaque and essentially beyond regulation.

The art market cannot be regulated in the way that the SEC regulates the financial markets, I suggested, because the determinants of prices are inherently ephemeral, even inscrutable. You can't be accused of insider trading in the art market because the market is predicated on insiderism. Everyone feels like an insider, and the struggle is to see who emerges as one in dollars and cents.

Sure, there might be a mortgage crisis, but there now seem to be markets that are relatively immune to the strife besetting the benighted middle classes. The luxury businesses are still hot. And what's more of a luxury business than art? There are almost five hundred billionaires in the U.S. alone, and almost nine million millionaires. That constitutes a pretty healthy collector class. As one waggish auctioneer has put it, after you've got your fourth home, a yacht, and a G5, what are you going to spend your money on? It would seem that as long as there is "hyperliquidity," there will be an art market.

And so it grows. Today Art Basel Miami Beach is not just one art fair. There are now twenty different fairs taking place in Miami at the same time, selling art, photography, and design. It is now quite impossible to see everything, so aesthetic triage happens. I intended to do more, but after seeing everything at Art Basel Miami Beach in the main convention center, then visiting NADA (the New Art Dealers Alliance), and then SCOPE, I was exhausted. I guess I had visited about five hundred dealer's booths.

Doing the fairs is interesting in terms of seeing what artists are doing. You really do spot trends. Last year there were many, many artists making very large, hyper-detailed color photographs of what might be considered tedious subject matter, in the manner of Andreas Gursky and Thomas Struth—I think Dave Hickey refers to these as "Large Cibachromes of three Germans standing around a mailbox." (They are still at it, but the subject matter seems more focused on strip mining and other industrial unpleasantness. I doubt those will go in the dining room.) Last year there were many small sculptures on the floors—I noticed because I was looking at the high heels of the female gallery directors and assistants. This year there was a lot of deliberately bad abstract painting in shades of mustard, ketchup, and relish. There was a lot of paint-can trompe l'oeuil where what appears to be liquid is actually solid. (Perhaps symbolic of the "hyperliquid" market.) Oscar was fascinated by these faux liquids, as he was with the profusion of large scary monsters at SCOPE, many made out of old tires, which may or may not have some allusive petrochemical significance.


Absolutely peaking at the moment is Asian cuteness, mostly Japanese otaku, but the Chinese are getting in on the act, too, with Buddha- and Mao-related pop art and post-modern porcelains. What began with Hello Kitty has become a tidal wave of unbearable anime and manga. Eventually the cuteness began to aggravate me, to the point where I began to feel much the way Edmonton Oilers coach Harvey McTavish must have before pulling the tongue out of the mouth of Calgary Flames mascot Harvey the Hound.

The hardest part of looking at the art at an art fair is the fact that it is surrounded by people who are often more bizarre, startling, intriguing, or complicated. The first day of Art Basel Miami Beach features a preview for the press and VIPs, and so generally you have to be an early bird to catch a glimpse of the high rollers who are making the pot bubble. After that the hordes descend, those who make any market interesting by trying to get in on it. I noticed many graying moneyed couples who strongly resembled Thurston and Eunice Howell of Gilligan's Island, closely inspecting the strange products on display at SCOPE and NADA. Perhaps this is the real story: the attempted apprehension of art by a new class of consumers.

I found myself not analyzing the work on display as much as guessing what line of work had enriched the art fair buyers inspecting the merchandise. I was more interested in what they saw in the art than what I saw in it myself. And just as one sometimes perversely imagines what strangers might look like making love or even sitting on the toilet, I found myself trying to picture these artworks installed in the homes of swimming pool contractors, hazardous waste tycoons, swampland developers…

I couldn't help but wonder what revelations Art Basel Miami Beach might bring next year. Too bad I have to wait. But wait…that gave me an idea.

Maybe Art Basel Miami Beach is too good a thing to happen only once a year. Even though it actually happens twice (in the summer in Basel, where it all started). Maybe art deserves its own theme park. Florida has Disneyworld, Epcot, Universal Studios, Marineland, Busch Gardens, Seaworld, the Holyland Experience. Why not The Art World Experience? Once you glimpse the breadth and plumbed the depths of Art Basel Miami Beach you know that there's much more here than can be absorbed in a three hour tour…a three hour tour…

Ann Magnuson

My idol, the great comedian B.S. Pully, had a terrific expression that he used often in his stage show: "I'm too smart for the room." How many times have I used that line myself when faced with a deafening silence after a particularly sparkling bon mot?

It's a fact of modern life that we are often disappointed by generally low standards of drollery, especially when we have trained for the Algonquin Round Table. I know many entire careers that have had a tendency to be too smart for the room. One of my favorites is that of the wonderful Ann Magnuson, a comedian, actress, writer, and musician who has perhaps erred on the side of intelligence throughout her distinguished, though clearly under-recognized career. Born too late? Too early? Perhaps we shall see…

In the heyday of the "new wave," Ann was New York's ruling-elite comedic performance artist (along with Eric Bogosian). She not only created many extraordinary one-person shows while serving as genius-in-residence at the legendary Club 57, but she would also launch entire bands based on her satiric vision, from the feminist-primitivist collective Pulsallama, to the psycho-psychedelia of Bongwater (which released five albums), to the remarkable heavy-metal extravaganza Vulcan Death Grip.

As one would expect of someone so brimming with genius (and foxiness), Ann left the threadbare, hardscrabble art world and went off to Hollywood where she was clearly too smart for the universe. And yet she succeeded, first with small roles in big films, then starring in considerable films such as Susan Seidelman's Making Mr. Right, opposite John Malkovich, and A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon, opposite River Phoenix.

In 1989, Ann crossed over to TV as a regular on Jamie Lee Curtis's situation comedy Anything But Love, but we weren't getting the full blast of Magnusonic satire. Still, Ann's enormous talent took her along the usual road to All-American success, with appearances on Caroline in the City, The Drew Carey Show, Wanda at Large, Frasier, and even CSI: Miami. And she was in big films like Jodie Foster's Panic Room, and not-so-big ones like Mariah's Glitter. But Ann Magnuson is a top banana, not a second banana, and diehard fans longed for the full effect. One of the reasons I hate Hollywood is that they have never given Ann Magnuson her own Carol Burnett Show. Of course, compared to the great Carol Burnett, Ann is a little…how do we put it…too smart for the room?


(Photo by Rocky Schenck)

Well, she's not too smart for my room, where her new album is in heavy rotation. The delightful new Ann Magnuson compact disc is called Pretty Songs and Ugly Stories and it was produced and arranged by Ann's sometime collaborator (they had a faux fake folk band together, Bleaker Street Incident) and genius in his own right/write/rite Kristian Hoffman. All dressed up in spiritualist Victoriana photographs, it harks back to various gentler, smarter times, to the delightful sensibilities of music hall and tin pan alley or at least the darker corners of the Brill Building. Ann has a lithe, crystalline, lilting voice, and at times she sounds like a sweet girl group like Angels or the Murmaids produced, perhaps, by Kim Fowley, or like Ruth Etting produced by Devo. Each song is a little gem, with the form embracing the content, like a Harry Winston setting embraces a three-carat diamond. You must buy this record if you have any hope for the advancement of comic literacy, or if you have high standards rubbing up against the calloused elbows of society. Why not buy this marvelous entertainment directly from the artist?: It comes autographed, for $13.98 plus shipping and handling.

Speaking of rooms that Ann Magnuson is not too smart for, Joe's Pub is one of them, and Ann is playing two shows there on May 18th. I'll be the guy in the pink carnation.

Great Cause, Great Deals

Free Arts is a wonderful charity that helps kids with problems by giving them a chance to make art. Artists are always being asked to donate to this cause and that cause, and they give again and again, sometimes grumbling about why non-artists don't do more to make it a better world. But Free Arts is particularly beloved by the artists who give to it. Maybe they identify with troubled kids.

Anyway, Free Arts supports itself in part with an annual auction. In the last few years much of the art auctioned has been in the form of large-format (20 x 24 inch) Polaroid photographs. Since Polaroid is likely to discontinue the film for their giant camera, not only are these unique works, but they're also probably the end of an era. The format will soon be as extinct as the Louisiana Vole or the Wooly Mammoth and thus these works are bound to appreciate significantly, not to mention that the lineup of contributing artists is particularly stellar, featuring Chris Burden, Chuck Close, Adam Fuss, Alex Katz, Barbara Kruger, John Lurie, Catherine Opie, and Tom Sachs, among others.

This year's auction is April 23rd from 6PM to 9PM at Milk Studios (450 W. 15th Street). For tickets visit or call 212-974-9092. The work will be great and, if this year is anything like years past, there will be some amazing bargains, all, of course, for a super cause.

Here's a Christopher Wool piece.


And John Lurie's piece, called "Lion Juggling Fish."


And Chris Burden's.


Fine Art at Sporting Prices

A while back I alerted readers of this ephemeral space that Supreme, the superlative haberdasher for youth and the likeminded, was continuing its series of artists' skateboard decks with several offerings from Jeff Koons. I have them hanging in my son Oscar's room. They are the only Koons work we can readily afford, and they are very good.


The latest Supreme boards are the work of my amigo Richard Prince. There's a classic bunny-skull board that resembles his bunny-skull surfboard, and there's a "hippie punk" board similar to the drawings in his recent book Hippie Punk, and to the shirts Marni showed this season for guys and gals. They're so cheap I hesitate to list the prices here, and they're going fast.

Now Showing at Jack Spade

Jack Spade is the store that's most like what you'd want your living room to be. It's got nice, comfily-fucked-up modernist furniture, good books, cool art, kooky collectibles, and crazy shit happening. It certainly did the other night, when I went down to 56 Greene Street for the opening of its motorcycle helmet show. Andy Spade runs the Jack store kind of like a gallery (and a library and a crash pad). There are three sort-of shows going on there concurrently. The motorcycle helmet one is a collection of vintage sixties motorcycle helmets, many metal-flake, all evocative of the Easy Rider-Wild Angels-Born Losers era of incipient compulsory-safety measures.


I had a drink or two before I heard the story, but apparently these helmets have something to do with a famous motorcycle tournament involving hot dogs. The idea was that bike riders, together with old ladies, competed in a hot-dog-biting competition. Each team had to ride by, and the old lady on the back, who was allowed to support herself by standing on the pegs or on the driver of the m.c., would take a bite of a stationary hot dog as they drove by. The winner was the mama who took the biggest bite out of the dog while underway.

The second exhibition is a collection of nine hats formerly owned by Marlon Brando. This collection was owned by Ricky Clifton, the interior design artist and famous bohemian personality, until it was sold to Jack Spade. Apparently the hats are available to the public. Warning: Marlon had a big head.


Thirdly, there's a fantastic show of drawings-on-blackboard by design maven and modernism connoisseur/retailer Steven Sclaroff. The concept is radical stores for children, such as Lane Bryant Baby ("Lane Bryant" is what my grandma called the fat-lady store), Agent Provocateur Enfant, and more. Hilarious.


There was a nice opening for the motorcycle helmet show, even better than a conventional gallery opening because of the small, freshly-grilled burgers and the wine and beer choices. And there was a crowd of distinguished bohemians on hand. For example (below, left to right), Shawn Mortensen, whose extraordinary new book of photographs, Out of Mind, was just released by Harry Abrams; Rachel Williams, a reformed supermodel soon to receive a masters degree in landscape architecture from Columbia University; and Jim Walrod, the notorious interior designer and raconteur:


Mr. Mortensen, just returned from Ethiopia, was wearing a Russian Army tank commander's helmet with his Ethiopian silver jewelry and the boiled-wool valenki boots he discovered on this very "web log."

Here's the globe-trotting photographer again, with decorator-to-the-artists Ricky Clifton wearing a polka-dot railroad engineer cap which was never owned by Marlon Brando.


Alternative Film Criticism

This morning, as I was running off to Pilates, I put on my sweats and reached for a T-shirt, and this is what I grabbed. It was made by Gerard Basquiat, the father of my old pal Jean-Michel Basquiat, the painter, musician, and adventurer.

When Julian Schnabel made that film Basquiat—which I called "a pre-emptive strike on art history," in that it depicted Schnabel, played by the thin and distinguished looking Gary Oldman, as a mentor to Basquiat, a state of affairs I would classify as entirely fictional—Gerard's droll response was to manufacture this shirt. The artwork was taken from a series of plates designed by Jean-Michel in 1983-84. They were owned by Andy Warhol and were the subject of a small book published by the Bischofberger Gallery. The series also includes Grandma Moses, Leroy Neiman, and Cimabue.


My next film project, after my Edie Sedgwick vampire movie Factory Ghoul, and the shoemaking comedy/drama I Shod Andy Warhol, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, is Schnabel. I'm hoping to get Steven Seagal to take the title role, with Christian Bale as Gary Oldman and Vincent Gallo as Basquiat.

How to Buy a Picasso Cheap

Las Vegas magnate Steve Wynn was just about to sell his Picasso, "Le Rêve," to financier Steven Cohen for $139 million, when he accidentally poked his elbow through it. These things happen. A cleaning woman in my employ once used a lot of elbow grease and Windex to get the signature off a Pruitt and Early that belonged to me. But at least in my case Nora Ephron wasn't there to write about it—scotching a megabucks art deal. I still have the work, and once I get Rob and Jack in the same place I'm getting it resigned, in case it ever gets up to nine figures.

But it's too bad about that wild elbow. I think Steve was right to sell that Picasso. He's just too active to own a painting that valuable and fragile. And now poor Steve is suing poor insurer Lloyd's of London over what he says is $54 million dollars damage to the painting, which is now worth a paltry $85 mil.


I've decided that until my kid is grown up I'm not buying any more Picassos or ceramics. But there are plenty of alternatives. Hotelier Ian Schrager has lots of Picasso-type paintings in his swank Gramercy Park Hotel, and unlike the Warhols and the Twombly they aren't behind plexi, because they were painted by Julian Schnabel.

If you can find a Picasso by Schnabel, I guarantee it will run you a lot less than a penny on the dollar Mr. Cohen was ready to fork over for "The Dream." In fact, if you act fast and head on over to Sotheby's on February 26th for the Contemporary Art sale, you can bid on Mike Bidlo's "The Dream," which is estimated at only $20,000 to $30,000. A steal! Here is Bidlo's painting:


Mike Bidlo's version, which I guarantee you looks a lot better than the above photo, is dated 1932 and 1987 (two dates for the price of one), and according to Sotheby's it's in good overall condition. Mike's work is really excellent. When he was doing Pollocks he really got into character and re-enacted the maestro pissing in Peggy Guggenheim's fireplace. And he did his Warhol oxidation paintings with real urine. When you're going for appropriation you want an appropriate appropriator, and Mr. Bidlo is the best of them. If I had the kind of money Mr. Cohen is throwing around I'd pick up the more recent "dream," and spend the leftover $138,970,000 on young artists and some signed first editions of Nora Ephron. What with terrorism and cocktail parties I'd pretty much rather have a Bidlo. If Wynn had the Bidlo and the Picasso, he could have poked his elbow through the Bidlo and avoided all that financial agony.

I used to be very jealous of the large Jackson Pollock by Mike Bidlo that Richard Marshall used to have in his office. It was stunning, a good enough painting to fool all but the most expert viewers, and if somebody started shooting you wouldn't be tempted to throw yourself in front of it.

The Artist Known as Prince Exhibits in Norway

My pal Richard Prince had a large exhibition at Oslo's Astrup Fearnley Museum, the best contemporary collection in Norway. The night we arrived we dined at Mr. Fearnley's country house, a fantastic old farmhouse about a half-hour from the center of Oslo. This eighteenth-century wooden house was painted-wood, inside and out, in the traditional manner, and is furnished with wonderful painted antiques, oriental rugs, beautiful paintings, stucco fireplaces burning birch logs, and not a few hunting trophies collected by Mr. Fearnley, including a very large moosehead and a big polar bear who is now a rug. One of our party was heard to mutter, "Ralph Lauren, eat your heart out."

It is certainly a very appealing and beautifully decorated residence. We had dinner in a sixteenth-century cottage that had been brought down from the mountains. It was decorated inside with elaborate paintings, including depictions, probably based on hearsay, of elephants, giraffes, and rhinos. An utterly charming dining room. When you enter and leave you must duck down, as the door is about four-feet high. I was told this was a defensive measure. Invaders would have to bend down to enter, enabling the resident to chop their heads off with ease. The next day I admired some replica Viking axes in a souvenir shop and thought about making short screen doors for my country house.

Richard's opening was a roaring success, attended by hundreds of Oslo art lovers as well as some friends from London and New York. It was Mr.Prince's first show devoted only to painting (there were thirty-one in the show) and sculpture (hoods and book plinths), and it was stunning. I noticed the public spent considerable time examining the new "De Kooning" paintings.

We did lots of fun things in Oslo, including devouring reindeer and moose and Swedish caviar, drinking local beer and Italian and French wine, and hanging out at the Theater Café in the National Theater, an old hangout of Ibsen's. It feels like Vienna but the art on the walls is all from Norwegian artists who have been habitués of the place over the last hundred years or so.

A Prince "De Kooning."


At the Theater Café, where the steak tartare would please even the most discriminating Tartar, London art dealer Sadie Coles and photography Johnny Shand-Kydd:


Glenn and Richard:


New York art dealers Per Skarstedt and Barbara Gladstone (she's the pretty one):


New York dealer Stellan Holm with mega-collector Pauline Karpidas, who operates the very important Hydra Workshop on that modest-sized Greek island.


The gent in orange with Max Falkenstein of the Barbara Gladstone Gallery is Erling Kagge. He's a collector, but he's also an adventurer. He was the first man to walk alone to the South Pole, and in one year he went to the South Pole, the North Pole, and the top of Mount Everest. As a result he hasn't spent that much time at nightclubs.


Erling took us to a nightclub called Cosmo. Here's their wallpaper:


And Richard at Cosmo with artist Nate Lowman, (wearing aNYthing) who did a great visual essay for the exhibition catalog, "Canaries in a Coalmine." It was a New York-style club—lots of velvet ropes and a too-tight door and overpriced Champagne.


The next night Stellan and I discovered a more fun club, Bla, pronounced blue, where people danced like it was the early eighties. Here's what one of the several girls I danced with looked like at 3 A.M.: