Ten Things We Learned at Chelsea’s Refreshed Galleries

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Dennis Hopper at his opening at Shafrazi. Photo: Patrick McMullan

Fashion Week’s in the spotlight, but it’s the opening of the art season, too, with 110 galleries throwing open their doors just since Thursday. Chelsea is crowded, suspense high — is anybody buying art these days? — and the party palette is black. (All those colorful fashion types are missing.) We recently spotted art-worlders Robert Storr, Thelma Golden, Robert Longo, and, at Tony Shafrazi’s gallery, pretty much everybody else. After a few dozen shows and one chat with Salman Rushdie, here’s what we came away with.

1. Artwork has shrunk. Lots of artists are doing work they — or their dealers — hope collectors will pick up, cash-and-carry, like candy bars at the supermarket checkout line. Kehinde Wiley, Raoul de Keyser, Kara Walker, and many others showed more-portable art.

2. Sex still sells. Or draws eyeballs, at least. While most viewers gave two seconds to everything before moving on, Moscow painter Dasha Shishkin’s vivid golden sex scenes at Zach Feuer won long gazes and much discussion.

3. Art loves Hollywood. And vice versa. Dennis Hopper’s exhibition at Shafrazi blended both crowds. Matt Dillon and Sean Penn posed in front of Hopper’s photographs of Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, and the twentieth-century art-world elite. Video monitors poking out of the wall at angles screened Hopper movies. (Larry Gagosian even dropped by the after-party at Indochine.) “I like the show, and there are already pieces I think are very special — the Paul Newman photograph, and the Andy Warhol holding the lily,” Salman Rushdie told us. Nonetheless, he’s probably not buying. “I collect contemporary Indian art,” he said.

4. Wool scarves are the new sunglasses. Posers who used to wear the latter indoors have switched to unnecessarily donning the former.

5. Big names sell big names. By Sunday, a trio of the Chris Ofilis at David Zwirner gallery were sold, at $140,000 apiece, and three others had reserves. Mary Boone had red dots on seven works at her salute to gallery director Ron Warren (although we hear sometimes that meant “not for sale”). One of the few younger names to chart a sale was Mika Rottenberg, best known for her barnyard video installation at the last Whitney Biennial.

6. Governors Island is on the map. Many were overheard asking folks whether they’d been to the once-abandoned park, now an art-world headquarters for the month. Elaborate events or performances by Robert Wilson, curator Renee Riccardo, Creative Time, the Bruce High Quality Foundation, and the government of the Netherlands all premiere on the island this week or next.

7. The youth are out in force. Openings were packed with teenage types who have a newfound respect for art. Or were in search of free beer. But we’ll take what we can get.

8. The recession isn’t juicing creativity. Not, at least, on gallery walls. We saw lots of black squiggles on white. A LOT of black squiggles on white. Which only made Maya Lin’s 52-foot-long undulating hill of wood at Pace Wildenstein more memorable.

9. Gallerists should stick to the ground level. With so many shows to see, collectors skipped virtually any art you had to take an elevator up to see.

10. We miss the fashion people.