“For me, it’s a way to look somewhere I’m not looking,” says Gioni. “One great quote from Maurizio that I made up is that you cannot go everywhere with a big car or a limousine. You need a bicycle to get to interesting places. In a way, you know, Family Business is the bicycle.”
“It’s a way to get back to the playfulness and energy without the huge bureaucracy behind it,” says Subotnick, who is slogging through curating a new biennial at the UCLA Hammer Museum, opening this June.
Family Business is also a reminder of the will to be noticed that they had when they started out. Now others have it. Cattelan went by on the drop-off day for Musson’s show and found it “insane,” much to his fascination. “People lined up like they’re looking for a job, with canvases under their arms. This is a fantastic image on 21st Street. You live the dream.”
Something about that picture of ambition makes Gioni the curator uncomfortable. “I don’t like the idea that there is a winner,” he says. “I think that is not very interesting.
“But you live a dream anyway. Because this is New York.”
Then there is—as a consequence of achieving your dream—the nightmare Gioni calls “paranoia mind”: “When you are so alienated from creative ideas that you only find ideas at the Armory art fair. A lot of good art happens outside of the channels you know. And part of the beauty of art is that it creates a new territory by its own appearance. So you have to be alert for situations where you can see what you don’t know. I don’t know if Family Business is that place.”
“It’s one of the places where it could happen,” Cattelan says.
“It’s also nice—it’s also about having a place that we run for other people,” Gioni says.
“And every two weeks there is an event,” Cattelan says.
“We have more openings than shows,” says Gioni, laughing. “We bypass the show problem. We go straight to the opening.”
At 7 p.m. the night of Musson’s opening, there is already a crowd milling about when Cattelan arrives. There was no way to get anywhere near the gallery entrance. “It’s like a street fair,” he says, marveling at what the G-to-the-L train disgorged onto the street—cleverly coiffed boho youth smoking and taking one another’s pictures with their iPhones. Cattelan is in a suede jacket and gleaming shoes, his pink shirt collar turned up. He looks like an elegant tourist, overdressed a bit for his own past life.
Across the street, a young guy with a pierced tongue and in a baggy vintage suit who came up from Philadelphia was standing in front of a rattling generator and lights, announcing, through a megaphone, that he had temporary tattoos available. They said 15 minutes of fame. Someone had made T-shirts with the Family Business logo written like an Italian restaurant, complete with a chef giving the okay sign.
Marilyn Minter was ecstatic. Musson’s show was the “Virgins” finale. She’d just found him on the Internet. (Musson, for his part, calls her a “goddess.”) “Everything has been spontaneous,” she says, as she got her temporary tattoo impressed on her arm. “Everyone has chipped in money. For the sound system. For beer. I was around in the eighties when we had openings till two in the morning in the East Village. But there were massive amounts of drugs and half the people are dead.” She laughs, amazed and defiant, and looks around. “I think in the history of art there have always been these moments. As soon as things are nailed down, there are the outbursts of cacophony. And things are really nailed down right now.”
Earlier, Cattelan told me, “I don’t want to say it’s against corporations, because I don’t think I would call it the 99 percent gallery. But it’s something to remind us that there is not only one way to present art in this neighborhood. It would be more expected in Greenpoint.”
It would also be more authentic: In some ways, Family Business is a captured alternative scene, an experiment for those uncomfortable with their comfort. But it is also really fun. Eccles found it “refreshing” that he knew so few people at the opening he attended: “Fantastic, I thought. And they seemed to think that they owned the place.”
Musson is trying to get Cattelan to pose on a makeshift red carpet by the gallery, next to a poster-size photo of a vagina. Cattelan ducks away. When the guy with the fake tattoos tries to get Cattelan to get one, he demurs. “I want to be the last one,” he says, turning to Minter, delighted, but trying to muffle it.
“We’ll never do another event like this,” he says, while a cab honks its way through, and two men, dressed identically in suits and wearing stockings over their faces, walk by, artistically. The dissonant hip-hop group Spank Rock is setting up to rap on the sidewalk in front of the overstuffed gallery, its doors open to the street. “You can do it once, but if you try to do it again, it won’t work.”