The Paintings at Terence Koh’s New Show Are Possibly Edible

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Photo: Patrick McMullan

At last night's blowout opening party for Terence Koh's new show, "Flowers for Baudelaire," questions of taste predominated. Not about whether Koh — who created a scandal in England earlier this year by showing a statue of Jesus with a huge erection — had gone too far, but about whether people had actually tasted the art. The show, which rising 23-year-old dealer Vito Schnabel (son of Julian) curated in the seamless, immaculately white photography studio of the late Richard Avedon's East 75th Street townhouse, featured an ethereal array of 51 white granulated canvases that were hypnotically blurred by the haze of a fog machine. Viewers were encouraged to remove their shoes before entering the space, where Koh, dressed in a black suit and bright white sneakers, was inviting guests to eat little flecks from the paintings. "You can lick them — let me show you, it's very sweet," he said. "I was just trying to make the simplest paintings possible. It's just plain canvases, corn syrup, and powdered sugar."

While one reporter followed his lead, not everyone was so eager to trust the artist, who has been known to use his own bodily fluids and other unpleasant materials in his work. The art dealer Jeffrey Deitch, who deemed the show "magical," wasn't biting. "The question is we don't know if it's powdered sugar or crystal meth," he said. "I travel with an official taster, so I have to wait for my taster to come." Artist Agathe Snow balked too. "I don't taste paintings," she said. "Did it taste like cocaine?" (No, it tasted like sugar.) Schnabel — who had set up the show through his friend Olivier Sarkozy, the half-brother of the French president and the owner of Avedon's finely appointed house — showed his faith in the artist by sampling the work but warned against overindulging. "I just imagine that titanium pigment wouldn't be good to swallow," he said, adding, "There might be some semen in there, I don't know. Who knows."

Upstairs at the party, an art-world crowd featuring Alanna Heiss, Klaus Biesenbach, Kembra Phaler, and Todd Eberle were joined by glossy figures like Anna Wintour and Salman Rushdie, with people spilling out onto a two-story patio. Sarkozy had installed two of Koh's paintings in his living room, and as the night progressed, the jostling of the revelers created a minor snowstorm of powder. Ann Dexter-Jones was wearing a black coat, but the entire back of it was white. "I bought a painting," she said. "I talked to Terence, and I said I needed to have one. And then I accidentally leaned on one and this happened. Now I'm a little worried." Lyor Cohen's black coat was similarly whitened, but only on the sleeves. He said he hadn't gotten near a painting; he'd just run into a lot of powder-covered friends who kept grabbing his arms, saying, "Lyor, how you doing?" Indeed, the paintings were shedding all over Sarkozy's bookshelves, which lined the floor of the room and an entire wall by the bathroom. (The shelves by the bathroom contained dozens of diet books: Digestive Wellness, Marion Nestle's What to Eat, The Omnivore's Dilemna, etc., as well as Connect Four and a DVD titled Scientology: An Overview.) At some point, guests noticed all the powder on the shelves and started making lines, then took turns scampering about the room with a lampshade on their heads. Whatever was in the paintings, they provided fuel for a memorable night, and an excellent show.

Related: Stateside Sarko Takes Edgy Art Home [NYM]