While the economy was in the midst of free-fall last year, the New York art world – from galleries to museums to artists – felt its stomach drop. Commercial galleries began closing, endowments started disappearing, and public funds for artists were shrinking. But as museum board members, collectors, and gallery owners hold their collective breaths, waiting to see where the bottom is, some artists have moved on – and perhaps even moved on a long time ago. Plan B, currently at NurtureArt, is a group show that showcases the projects of emerging artists who are (and have been) creating work not necessarily as a response to the economic recession, but always and already in spite of the economy at large.
The most engaging works in the show are projects that feature supportive, alternative economies, often times based on teaching and sharing, and almost always with a sense of glee and a kind of naivete. For example, Double A Projects’ (Athena Robles and Anna Stein) Global Free Store, is an actual store that the two opened briefly last year in the financial district. The store featured donated items that were available for free, or for exchange. Another project, OurGoods, elaborates on an economy of exchange, helping artists receive the things or help they need while also enabling them to share their own resources and talents.
Also included in the show are Secret School and The K.I.D.S., the brainchild of Huong Ngo and Colin McMullin, and their project, Growing a Network of Secret Gardens. Gardens is an ongoing project that encourages urban gardening through exchange. In addition to producing zines about how to build a little mobile greenhouse, and creating take-away maps that use the MTA format and redirect your attention to the urban habitats of birds, bees, and other little creatures, the two have hosted seed exchange parties and conducted garden group tours to the city’s most incredible and inaccessible urban gardens. Their tender installation in the gallery includes a sparingly rendered watercolor drawing of a radish, precious in its frame hung gingerly on the wall; and a cart with its top covered with fragile paper boxes holding seeds of all sorts, its lower shelf filled with cloth bags of dirt (like cartoon money bags), all for the taking.
What is refreshing about this group show, one of several that have emerged in the past year dealing with the economic recession, is that you understand most of these artists’ works have always operated outside the machinery of capitalism and the commercial art world. Some of the projects included in the show operate as theoretical proposals, but some are also lived experiences of supportive communities that serve simply as hopeful examples. While it is timely to call attention to the ways that art can re-evaluate existing social and economic norms, it is, sadly, not the lyrical farewell to the global economy as we know it.
(*Images: Secret School and the K.I.D.S., Growing a Network of Secret Gardens, 2009. Secret School and the K.I.D.S., Bee Line Pocket Map, from Growing a Network of Secret Gardens, 2009. OurGoods, 2009. Images courtesy of the Artists and NurtureArt.)