Meditations, the new exhibition by the mysterious Bruce High Quality Foundation, is showing through the 8th of December between two spaces: Vito Schnabel (43 Clarkson Street) and Mark Fletcher (24 Washington Sq. North). The show is a single exhibition though it’s been bisected. Each environment is very different despite following the same subject. Described as “a meditation on the historical relationship between works of art and the consolidation and dispersion of political power,” the Bruces’ particular brand of satire is abundantly present in the exhibition and it commands the show to an almost overwhelming degree.
Meditations of the Emperor fills the Mark Fletcher half. With only four works, the curation is neat and powerful. A loud mishmash of audio blares out of a back room, adding a sonic layer to the three works in the front. The Plot (2013), a 2 x 48 x 108.5-inch slice of asphalt, sits on the floor in the center of the space. It seems to be basic institutional critique, in bringing the lowly, industrial environment inside. However, its placement and title suggest more.
Hanging on the walls adjacent the asphalt, The View (2013) presentsa crude, golden, magnanimous portrait of a horse’s rear end, on which sits a majestic leader of Roman aesthetic; the “Emperor” is intimidating in his immense power. The third piece is The Companion (2013), a large pane of glass burnished with gold and silver to a reflective polish.
Bruce High Quality Foundation, Meditations of the Emperor; Courtesy BHQF (Bruce High Quality Foundation).
The titles alone describe an intricate tale. The Plot, a playful suggestion of the road/scene, grounds the viewer as the subject and The View is our spectacle. The ostensible leader faces away from view and the horse’s rump, a typically unglorified portion of dignified statuary, is given pride of place. Hurried, gold brush marks cover the canvas in superficial glory. Brazenly addressing a different audience, the viewer’s coarse dismissal
from the Emperor is bothersome and feels all too familiar. The Emperor is intended as Marcus Aurelius, however his appearance is vaguely represented and in turn becomes a timeless suggestion of unbreachable power. Turning one’s back on The View, The Companion is directly opposite. The view is now one’s own image shimmering in gold and silver, with the Emperor being disregarded in the background. One’s natural irritation at being ignored by those in power has been gracefully installed; the scene is poignant and immersive with very little effort needed from the viewer. However, there is bitterness in the delicate arrangement of rejecting this ruler’s dismissal and then being comforted by our self, “The Companion”. Whether it intends to critique the public’s increasingly casual dissatisfaction of those in power, our possible Napoleonic complexes in the face of such prestige, or a more straightforward subversion of those in rule, the arrangement is simple, beautiful and provocative.
The next room contains a gaudy analysis of the leader, Meditations of the Emperor: Art History with Power (2013). Standing on a platform, the life size equestrian sculpture towers over the viewer. It has been hurriedly slopped in an audacious skin of gold leaf. The rider has a television for a head that flickers between a haphazard compilation of contemporary topics including NWA, film trailers, National Geographic, twerking, basketball, luxury cars and George Bush being assailed by a shoe. Another television has replaced the head of the steed and it shows a quick loop of a horse’s head, in black and white, its mouth quivering mid-neigh. The audio for the sculpture switches spontaneously between the two televisions; one is a cacophonic contemporary compilation, the other, a girl’s voice mundanely describing a routine day in her life from work to the gym to the coffee shop. Alongside the charmingly disparate thought process of a leader, conflating gender roles are thrown in, adding a much-needed sexist twist.
Bruce High Quality Foundation, Selections From The Greek And Roman Collection Of The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Courtesy BHQF (Bruce High Quality Foundation)
The Vito Schnabel branch of the show, Selections From The Greek And Roman Collection Of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, seems much more straightforward in its
concept, which is disappointing at first. The space is filled with objects and artifacts and it looks like a storeroom in relation to the neatly curated Mark Fletcher space. The twenty-six objects on display—from a large Hellenistic beast, to busts and pots—are Playdough recreations of relics from the Roman and Greek era. They are part of the collective’s “ongoing initiative” to recreate every object in The Metropolitan Museum’s Roman and Greek collection. Their price tags have even been included.
Although the layout is cluttered, the pieces are made well enough to hide the impish material successfully. However, there are obvious jibes, with glitter thrown in and frowny faces replacing delicate physical structures. Warped and wobbling vases imply an insouciant disregard for classic craftsmanship, but through these jabs and jests, real anxieties are being explored.
Meditations is not the examination of how an era impacted humanity, but how that era has been recycled, in Playdough, to serve humanity once again. The Bruces, in recreating a collection that defines a time, reanimate the significance of these ancient objects to touch upon that brash, indecisive gold thing that flicks through the channels of power in contemporary culture.
[Image on top: Bruce High Quality Foundation, Meditations of the Emperor: Art History with Power, 2013; Courtesy BHQF (Bruce High Quality Foundation).]