By George Ducker
"Are you taking a picture of the girl, or of the art?" asks a man standing next to me.
It's a fair enough question. The opening of Carsten Höller's new exhibit Reindeers & Spheres, much like every other opening at Beverly Hills' Gagosian gallery brought out the beautiful people by the truckload.
White teeth, fitted suit jackets, strappy dresses and bared shoulders; By 7:30, it's getting difficult to navigate through it all. Like the deep end of a swimming pool drained of its water, the Gagosian's expansive square of a main room forces you to confront not only the art on display, but the dozens and dozens of other people on display as well.
Höller's work is perfect for this kind of forced-observational environment. He built a carousel on the lawn of an Italian villa in 2007. His "Test Site" in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern sent participants down a silvery, two-story slide. A 1996 installation, Flying Machine, hoisted people right up into the air. His Upside Down Mushroom Room, at MOCA in 2005, invited the viewer to move through a hallway of enlarged mushrooms hung upside down like stalagtites.
"Interactive," that oft-abused watchword, seems to be his stock and trade. Höller wants people to watch other people doing things, and ultimately, watch other people watch people doing things.
The only problem with tonight's show is that there's really nothing to do but gawk. Höller's two pieces, Black Double Sphere and Red Double Sphere Hanging dominate the main room -- each at about 6 1/2 feet in diameter -- pulsing frenetically. In the back room, three attaché cases lay open, as models of tiny Amanita mushrooms spin around at various speeds. Upstairs, Soma Series 1 - 5, is a photographic meditation on a naked, red-haired woman and a reindeer.
Back downstairs, it's pretty easy to miss the small, green-colored baby reindeer that Höller's inserted into the corner of the main room. It lays curled up, small and shriveled, and reminds me of the very real dog that Guillermo Vargas allegedly starved to death in a 2007 Nicaruagua art exhibit.
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After a few drinks, people start to stand under Red Double Sphere Hanging and put their heads inside of it. Eyes flit around the room. A woman has her baby strapped to her chest. One guy takes a picture of some other guy's Nikes. Someone looks like Casey Affleck, but isn't. Another guy looks like Romaine Gavras, the director of the ultra-violent video for Justice's "Stress." Turns out he isn't that guy either. You never know who will show up at a Gagosian opening, but you also never know who showed up that you didn't know.
Later, at the gratis bar, a woman in front of me asks the bartender to cut her white wine with San Pellegrino. He does a half-and-half. "The chardonnay is so bad here," she remarks. I keep waiting for her to say, "and such small portions."