In this summer edition of Jordan Richman's TRANSMISSIONS, our columnist finds himself far from the party scene, on a "cure" at a luxury medical spa in Austria. Detoxing from a hectic season of culture, during various cleansing treatments he looks back on his notes from art world galas, Lucien dinner debates, and yet another Balenciaga show (where a runway-side chat with theorist McKenzie Wark brought drollness to the brand’s Wall Street BDSM bacchanal). Swapping champagne for intravenous infusions at the lakeside retreat, Richman discovers that real culture lies within. In order to regenerate, he declares, the worlds of art and fashion may need to detox, too, trading all the "-cores" for a more nutritive suffix.
Feeling a Lohan-level of exhaustion both creatively and physically, I plan a Mayr cure highly recommended by several Austrian and Swiss friends. There are a scattering of gut health spas across Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. I ask set designer and Mayr devotee Julia Wagner which to choose, The Original FX Mayr or Viva Mayr. Julia explains the differences: “I just think FX is chicer, it’s less celebrities. FX and Viva are like Coke and Pepsi. FX is the original recipe. Pepsi invests more in marketing, so they have Britney Spears and all.”
I’m picked up at Ljubljana airport. It’s a stunning, sunny, Slovenian morning. The drive is a constant maneuvering around sharp turns and driving equal amounts of time up and down hills. I ask the driver if the Mercedes has Bluetooth. It does, and I play Laibach’s The Sound of Music album. I suspect this might be the most cringe, but also the most satisfying, thing to do in the moment. I mean, in the summer pastoral countryside of central Europe, how I could resist? When a frightful voice yodels “my heart wants to beat like the wings of the birds that rise from the lakes to the trees,” the bizarre contrast between the music and sickening, saccharine lyrics give dark gothic vibes, and land me in a Tim Burton remake of the classic Disney film. The Edelweiss track comes on, and I wonder if it’s problematic to be making the driver listen to this album. Not only because of the pained relationship I imagine between locals and The Sound of Music, but also because of a vague memory I have of BFRND once informing me that the band possibly having a fascist past. We cross the border and arrive in Austria to a large wooden chalet on the aquamarine banks of the lake Wörthersee. I check into the clinic and on my arrival I’m given a sauerkraut juice and taken to my villa – part of a recent expansion. The design of FX Mayr is charming. One (not me) might describe it as “cottagecore.” The interiors are mostly of the cream, beige, eggshell, camel, khaki, and stone palette one finds in the homes in every Nancy Meyers film. I wander down to the spa by the water to shvitz out all the toxins from the journey. After the sauna I dive nude into the chilly crystal clear water. An Austrian man with a vintage Riva offers to show me around the lake. Along the way, he points out different famous Austrians’ homes. One belonged to playboy Gunter Sachs, another to gun magnate Gaston Glock, high on the hill the hut where Gustav Mahler wrote his symphonies.
I return to FX Mayr in time for lunch. The restaurant is silent, and phones are forbidden. At first, this is unnerving. Then I hear the woman at the next table snapping at the waiter for removing her plate that “still has a couple crumbs, which here makes a difference.” I suppose if I had been reading emails I may have missed this morsel. I commit to studying my fellow guests like I’m watching the next season of The White Lotus. Or a Ruben Östlund film set at a luxury detox spa in Austria, complete with addict supermodels, neurodiverse technocrats, and washed up German athletes as the main characters. My buckwheat roll arrives, and I practice masticating each bite of bread 30 times before swallowing – the recommended minimum. Sometimes I can only make it to 20 before the bread is just starchy saliva swirling around my mouth. I swear, I’ve given quicker blow jobs.
In the afternoon I meet with my personal physician, Dr. Ursula Muntean Rock. She’s a blonde woman middle age with kind eyes the same color as the lake. The doctor smiles warmly as she inquires about my history, lifestyle, travel, and goals for my stay. The good doctor seems neither judgmental or dictatorial. We decide together that the priorities for my cure (“Kur”) should be to detox and give myself a restful reset. This process will include abdominal treatments, massage, altitude training, medical testing and checkups, alkaline baths, detox wraps, osteopathy, lymphatic drainage, nasal reflexology, infusions, and of course colon hydrotherapy – with an intestinal flora boost. We continue discussing my life and the apparent crossroads I’m facing. Her demeanor is so caring I wish I could make her my GP. My next appointment is a consultation with the director of beauty and spa. At first she raves about my skin and probes about my regime. I mention my last facial with Fatma Shaheen. She tells me that because my skin is “perfection” I don’t need any of the facials. I notice cool sculpting is listed in the spa menu and ask about the procedure. This she emphatically suggests, and examines by belly before warning of the three month recovery, during which you must not eat dinner or drink more than a glass of wine a day. I’m tempted, but then I remember Linda Evangelista’s crusade and lawsuit against cool sculpting for leaving her disfigured and unable to work alongside her geriatric supermodel peers Naomi, Cindy, Claudia, and Helena. I mention Linda but don’t get much of a response – which is either due to a language barrier or because she’s unaware. I tell her I’ll think about it and text my editor Victoria Camblin for advice.
Lunch the following day is worth chewing 30 times. On trend, everything is tiny, including the quail egg, blini, caviar, the droplet of beet purée and herbs. After half a dozen petite meals and fasting in between, I already have a much greater appreciation for food. Without conversation and the phone, I can concentrate on each delectable bite.
There’s less time to write while at Mayr than I expected. And with the meals sans devices, my normal writing habit is additionally interrupted. I try to write during the varied spa treatments and to hopefully finally be able to get down the events of the past months.
I wake up at seven in the morning, and my first scheduled appointment is for is a colon hydrotherapy, colloquially known as a colonic. I arrive to the third floor, where I’m greeted by yet another smiling blonde. She has me disrobe and lay down on the medical table. Next, I’m instructed to turn onto my right side. Before I can even get comfortable, a tube is being inserted into me. I take a deep breath and try to read my notes from the Balenciaga resort show so I can finally write about the experience. I haven’t made much progress by the time she rolls me over onto my back and starts irrigating my insides with warm water, asking me to tell her when I feel full. It’s my first colonic so feeling a little awkward, I disassociate and flash back to the runway:
Finding the check-in for the Balenciaga show is extremely challenging. There are barricades surrounding the New York Stock Exchange for several blocks in every direction. I assume this is the usual security protocol and not all for Christine from Selling Sunset, drag Dolly, or a very tardy Megan Thee Stallion. I lead curator Matthew Linde and artists Anna-Sophie Berger and Dora Budor up to a PR Consulting assistant channeling some 1990s clipboard cliché. I pull out my invite for the show: a fat stack of crisp hundred dollar Balencibills. Splashed over Instagram reels ahead of the presentation, the cash reminds me of those Weimar Republic photos of children playing with bricks of bank notes as though they were building blocks, rendered worthless due to unchecked hyperinflation. Eventually, we all find our way through the security checkpoints and metal detectors and enter the floor of the New York Stock Exchange…
The seating for the show is very original. The front row is filled with New York’s expanded artworld, as opposed to the usual editors and influencers. In my section alone, in addition to Anna-Sophie and Dora, is DIS, Jill Mulleady, Josh Kline, Natasha Stagg, Emily Sundblad of Reena Spaulings, and Stuart Comer, to name a few. Of course, the seating has also created some drama within the tight-knit Dimes Square demimonde. Leading up to the show, the uninvited have been openly hostile – something I encountered at a Reena Spaulings after party for Marc Kokopeli taking place on a piss-soaked underpass beneath the Manhattan bridge. That’s where a friend asked to see my Balenciaga dollars then proceeded to set them ablaze, burning a Balenciaga effigy barely ten feet away from the brand’s creative team.
Inside the NYSE, the trading bell rings, and I think about how BFRND told me the music composition for the show was inspired by the FIDI location when I interviewed him for the cover of Kaleidoscope. Across the runway from me is theorist McKenzie Wark, apparently editing her manuscript. When we speak, we’re laughing:
Jordan Richman: What brings you to the Balenciaga show?
McKenzie Wark: I was invited so, I'm not usually invited so, I thought I’ll come to that why not.
JR: How does it feel to be here at the New York Stock Exchange?
MW: Yeah, it’s sort of like 43 levels of irony on the whole thing. So I’m kind of like, just roll with it. You know? This is my life: I’m, like, doing page proofs on a book at the fucking Balenciaga show at the New York Stock Exchange.
JR: Why is it ironic for you to be here at the stock exchange ?
MW: The fact that I'm a communist! But you got to wear that lightly in the 21st century.
The pressure inside becomes overwhelming and my Austrian technician flushes the liquid. As it releases, she shows me the water in the clear tube while massaging my abdomen.
Eliza Douglas is the first exit, however she is unrecognizable in a black latex gimp mask. Each look is modeled by someone similarly obscured, making the casting by Franziska Bachofen-Echt a fetishy mystery. Eventually the music switches from hardcore to a slow pained rendition of “New York, New York.” It’s the same version Carey Mulligan sings in another Manhattan landmark – the Boom Boom Room – in Steve McQueen’s Shame, the tale of a hedge funder’s depraved sex addiction. I think Mulligan’s desperation is the sonic equivalent to Balenciaga’s aestheticization of suffering last season. This show, however, hearkens back to Demna’s early Vetements days, when the brand would show off-calendar, in flea markets and department stores – instead of the high production amusements staged for Balenciaga, beginning with a Jon Rafman video tunnel. The clothes, like the stock exchange itself, feel a bit like relics from a bygone era read about in Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities. An Adidas collaboration appears on the runway as all the trading screens start to glitch before ultimately crashing and going ghostly white. McKenzie loves the show. “I'm here for the whole fucking 80s cyber punk, fetish, techno, industrial, urban, monochromes with little splashes of color. It's a bit of a throwback for me,” she tells me. “And I'm not really here for the sportswear.”
JR: Would you ever wear one of the masks?
MW: Uhhh let's just say that's context dependent (laughing). Not in the club because I go to dance.
JR: Ja no it’s too hot for that.
MW: Right, right let's not speak about the situations.
After several cycles of filling and emptying, I'm exhausted. Psychically, something also releases along with the contents of my colon.
Cruising backstage with a friend and their giant dog, I run into Marc Jacobs’ husband making it rain Balenciaga bucks with a strip club money gun. I’m grabbed by one of the masked models. At first, I don’t recognize them in their long covered black gown and latex claw gloves. They shout, “It’s me, Inti!” Obviously, I should have known – no one else has their remarkably lean measurements. And, this time in one of the best looks of the show, they have risen the ranks to star Balencidoll. Just for fun, we take pictures of them perched like a cat on the trading floor work stations. Backstage, editors push and shove for the best TikToks (you know who you are). Stylist Akeem Smith, wearing large latex breasts, is definitely the best dressed of the day. His shocking look racks up nearly as many impressions as the Balenciaga show itself. Doubling down on spectacle marketing in the shadow of inflation and the looming recession, will Balenciaga’s stock continue to soar? Or will it crash like cryptocurrency did the week of the show, shortly after Balenciaga CEO Cedric Charbit announced the brand would begin accepting Bitcoin and Ethereum for payment?
One of my favorite treatments at FX Mayr, besides all of the massages from Rolf, is the intermittent hypoxic-hyperoxic therapy. It’s very simple: you lay in a chaise with an oxygen mask over your mouth and nose to simulate a change in altitude, which promotes energy metabolism and fitness by increasing the amount of oxygen contained in the breath. This controlled intake of oxygen, I am told, activates the power stations in the cells, destroys damaged cell components, and encourages the proliferation of young, healthy mitochondria. The whole process takes about an hour.
While reclined and oxygenated, I rewatch DIS’ Everything But the World, which I first saw about a month ago at Metrograph in Dimes Square, where it screened alongside other films selected by the collective as curators of the Biennale de l'Image en Mouvement. I took notes there, too:
Everything But the World opens in a desert landscape with a voiceover: “So which came first? The bad egg or the bad egg’s fear of death?” The sexy vocal fry of the narrator is familiar, but I can’t quite place it. Then supermodel Omahyra appears on screen, walking naked and slouching forward covered in Donna Huanca’s paint. “No offense,” the commentary continues, “but committing suicide day after day and calling it progress. It’s so sad. This is the story of what happens after your property and after your progress. It’s over. It’s a scary one. And it’s funny. But not, like, ‘funny ha-ha.’ More like the part in the movie when there’s a damsel and she’s running and you’re like, ‘RUN BITCH!’” The narrator is finally revealed to be none other than filmmaker Leilah Weinraub, who is pictured sitting alone in a MacArthur Park penthouse, podcasting. That evening, after the screening, I bump into Leilah at Chloë Sevigny’s wedding party. I tell her I had never realized how hot her voice is while we dance with Haley Wollens and DIS’ Solomon Chase at Paul’s Casablanca.
After the desert scene, the film cuts to a shot of Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch wandering around the banks of the empty lazy river on their property with a selfie stick. While buying a watermelon flavored vape from the Vape Addiction on Orchard en route to Chloe’s, I reflected on the influence DIS has had on me since we met in 2016 in Berlin. Before DIS, when I thought of visual art I thought of Dia. I remember getting into an argument about them on the hookup app Scruff in Paris. This person was messaging me about feeling psychologically damaged by DIS as an uncool art student in the 2010s, griping about how the collective were trendsetting fascists and “dictators of cool.” I responded by informing them of their cluelessness: DIS had been one of the most inclusive representational epochs of the artworld.
Later that (very busy) week, I get into this over dinner with Haley, Solomon, and David Toro at Lucien. After I make a lame joke about a show idea for DIS.ART, Haley responds to the perceived slight. “DIS are the geniuses of our generation,” she declares, and there is no argument from me. A few days before, I’m at the MOMA PS1 gala with David, Solomon, and supermodel Inti, and I fondly remember what I think of as DIS’s reign as the shadow curators of the museum. It’s impossible to imagine a metaverse for Demna’s Balenciaga if DIS had not first laid the cable.
I realize the effects of The Original FX Mayr are similarly encompassing, and I find them challenging to comprehend for some time. I certainly leave the spa feeling fresh, but the greater, more lasting effects, I will only begin to grasp several months later. I follow my “Kur” with a boresome couture season – admittedly elevated by celebrities such as Nicole Kidman on the runway at Balenciaga and a triumphant return to form for John Galliano at Margiela, whose theatrical extravaganza is dubbed by many in attendance as the best fashion show they have ever seen. Maybe there is still room for some ingenuity amid the hollow multi-billion dollar spectacle that is the seasonal fashion calendar, but I still find myself impassive between concussed European rock tours, Puglian psychodramas, and petty Berlin LARPing as New York City. Mayr is all about the importance of the gut, and at the spa they even go so far to refer to it as your “second brain.” I would usually write this off as euphemistic Goopesque nonsense, but post-Mayr my emotions remain relatively grounded. The trauma of a morning at Trauma Bar following Schinkel Pavilion’s 15th anniversary party doesn’t even faze me. As I return to New York after two months in Europe, I realize listening to my (literal) gut is something I should continue. Bored to tears by the art world and fashion industry seemingly trotting towards a stagecoach level of irrelevancy, I couldn’t help but wonder: is wellness becoming the more interesting cultural frontier? Is Kur the new “core”?
TRANSMISSIONS is a communicable and speculative sociological research column by JORDAN RICHMAN. Traversing the globe and immersing himself into perceived moments of relevance, Richman mines the fields of fashion and culture – extracting with you his thoughts, encounters, and societal foreshadowing.