Trust me, I don’t make this assertion lightly, I say this only after years and years of waiting for this generation to take the proverbial bull by the balls, shake up the status-quo and wake up the living dead.
I’ve had the pleasure of attending several of Vladmir Restoin-Roitfeld’s guerrilla-style pop-up exhibitions, and I can’t help but be reminded of moving to New York City in the mid ’80s. I can vividly remember residing in the gritty East Village and running into friends on any given street corner who would gladly give you the 411 on where the next art opening/happening would be taking place. Nine times out of 10, many of us would show up to support our friends and their work, while there was also a fair number of folks turning up for the free wine, cheap cheese, stale crackers and, most importantly, the after-party. Although some of the elements of the art opening, as well as the day-to-day business of the art world, haven’t changed, what appears to separate Mr. Restoin-Roitfeld from the past, and even the present, may be his seemingly effortless marketing strategy and business model execution.
There is a permeating and infectious passion in the modern way Mr. Restoin-Roitfeld has chosen to present art to such a diverse group of people. There seems to be zero hard pitch associated with his proposition, These are the artists I like and I hope you like them too… Basta! Lucky for us, his discerning eye, fluid education and life lessons have allowed him to attract a group of the most innovative and provocative artists of his generation.
To be honest, at one point I almost gave up on openings all together. Instead I found myself opting for studio visits, pre-opening viewings or slow gallery days. Therefore, when I was invited to attend Vladimir’s most recent offering at Sotheby’s entitled Hue + Cry (exhibition ends on October 21st, 2012), I had my reservations about turning up. There was something about the idea of him curating such a large group show that I didn’t believe he nor I were quite ready to handle. In hindsight, I guess I had become somewhat accustomed to Mr. Restoin-Roitfeld’s laser focus and commitment when showing the solo work of a member of his merry band or a close friend. But there was something else on this invitation which got me up, dressed, glittered and out of the door. The invitation also read: A Selling Exhibition Curated by Vladimir Restoin-Roitfeld. No, it wasn’t the hyphen… A selling exhibition was the kind of wording that really peaked my interest, because I had faith that not only was he taking a huge risk with a group showing, but he was also taking a huge risk that would hopefully pay off, figuratively and literally. And I for one wasn’t going to miss it and be forced to read about it somewhere else.
On my way into the gallery space I immediately spotted the well-dressed and raven-haired Mr. Restoin-Roitfeld escorting two patrons to the exit while thanking them for attending. I could tell he was in full business mode. Normally, this would have been the kind of sighting that would lead an old-seasoned, inherently jaded New Yorker like myself to an involuntary eye-roll — but this is what separates this young man from the rest. Instead of a rolling of the eyes, you find yourself secretly rooting for him. You find yourself hoping he has just made the sale of a lifetime. You cross your fingers behind your back and wish the two exiting patrons have also left at least three or four red dots in the room and you will be reading about it the following day on either ArtInfo orPageSix. And then you wistfully imagine that somewhere there is an obfuscated corner where Vladmir and his lucky artist are quietly huddled and giving each other a big congratulatory high-five as they count their loot and commission in their respective heads. I guess that’s also the difference. You instinctively know not only has Mr. Restoin-Roitfeld created a very unique business for himself, he has also created a safe haven for new art to viewed, discussed and sold. But, most importantly, he is also providing a livelihood for the artists he truly believes in — a livelihood that will hopefully allow their work and careers to flourish and prosper.
Over the years I have trained myself to walk through a gallery show at least three times — once with my heart, once my mind and lastly with my well-informed opinion. I also have the benefit of not being an art critic, dealer or buyer. I am simply an art lover/enthusiast — a benefit that allows me to be led through any show without the slightest bit of judgment or motive. I am simply looking for a connection (or not) to the work.
As I walked through the space I was struck by the intimate confines of the space in comparison to Vladimir’s other larger pop-up venues. But somehow the space made perfect sense for the well-chosen 30 paintings and sculptures on display from artists such as Kadar Brock, Daniel Hesidence, Robert Melee, Jackie Saccoccio and, my personal favorite, Nicolas Pol. I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by the cohesion and curatorial restraint of the show. Not for one moment did you confuse the individual and very skillful hand of each artist involved in the show, but you definitely knew that these artists had been systematically and methodically selected by the same heart.
During my second passing, I found myself in somewhat of a glittered haze and couldn’t help remembering the good old days when my friend Keith Haring told me about a guy named Jeffrey Deitch. He said Jeffrey knew everybody and had great parties. Keith knew he didn’t need to give me Jeffrey’s resume or a speech, his personal endorsement made him instantly cool. Back then, much like this particular evening, there was never any separation between the folks who worked in fashion, art, music, uptown or downtown. If you made, shared or even sold stuff, it simply meant you were a part of the crowd. Correction, if you made or sold cool stuff you were in the crowd.
Before leaving the show, I couldn’t resist stealing a few minutes to chat with Vladimir about his selection process, focused eye, and whatever else I could learn about the reason this show had struck such a strong chord with me. But he would have none of my compliments and/or poetic waxing. Instead he graciously referred all accomplishments and praise to his team for organizing such a major undertaking. As much as I wanted to continue with my line of questioning, I couldn’t help feeling that I didn’t want to take up too much of his valuable and much sought after time. To be completely honest, I felt strangely guilty. I felt like the more time I took him away from the gallery floor, the more time I was taking him away from his ability to speak to die-hard journalists about the show as well as chatting up clients that were seriously interested in buying this superb work. But, it was in that moment as I watched him take his gracious and poised leave in which I thought, “Some babies never really crawl. Some babies are born walking, talking and selling.” I can’t help but imagine that Jeffrey and Larry are somewhere feeling very proud of their baby boy. And so are his real parents.