On Friday night in the West Village, as the weeklong wave of big-deal art openings timed to coincide with the spectacle of the city’s first Frieze fair began to crescendo, Helmut Lang’s first significant New York show as an artist opened rather quietly. The former designer, who left the fashion industry in 2005, showed monochrome rubber sculptures in black and white at 24 Washington Square North, in an old refurbished townhouse straight out of Edith Wharton. The setting, like Lang himself (tan, shiny-pated, dressed simply in a t-shirt, faded blue jeans, and a beaten-up black leather jacket) was immaculate but low-key, neither white cube nor street party. “It’s a space that feels transitional,” noted the curator Neville Wakefield, who organized the show with London gallerist Sadie Coles and art advisor Mark Fletcher. In his transition from designer to artist, Lang has marched to his own clock, which seems the reverse of the annual fashion calendar—Wakefield guessed that this show was several years in the making, and only Lang’s third solo exhibition since his 2008 show at the Kestnergesellschaft in Hanover, Germany.

Here, the crowd, which leaned more art than fashion (Elizabeth Peyton, Hanna Liden, Nate Lowman), walked up to the second-floor space with openly curious faces, unsure of what to expect. They were greeted by two rooms of totem pole-like pieces made from salvaged rubber, arranged in two groupings. A few attendees took giddy, perverse pleasure in scuttling through the clusters—possibly because a few of the sculptures were, with their mushroom-like tops, undeniably phallic. Like Lang's clothes once did, his art put sex on the mind.

“Helmut Lang: Sculptures” runs through June 15, 2012, at 24 Washington Square North.

Photos: Adam Reich