Youth and newness are the totems of this exhibition and it feels that way. An excitement like an electric current runs through the arrangements of artworks, which seem to function as conceptual experiments or curatorial prototypes. The exhibition is built on a somewhat peculiar precedent; a dozen aspiring curators were each allotted a section of the gallery to mount individual micro-shows. Most chose to work with two or three artists; in all there are twenty-nine artists represented by an abundant range of objects. A case could easily be made for the present state of pluralism in contemporary art, but there is such an obvious panoply of perspectives on view that such a case would only simplify the experience.
In a sense this is an exhibition of curators, organized by Amani Olu who could be considered the arch-curator. The simple fact that the show is in its fourth iteration is proof that there is something in Olu’s concept that people find appealing. I’m told the sheer quantity of curators submitting their new ideas grows each year, which is exciting because in situations like this a rise in quantity typically comes with a boost in quality. If that’s the case then the fact that this year’s selection is heavy on New Yorkers suggests that much of the finest curatorial innovation Olu seeks to showcase is happening locally.
Installation view; Courtesy Meulensteen, New York, NY.
There are so many levels to this show that if it’s not approached with patience it will easily overwhelm and stultify. On my first pass I felt like I was at an art buffet, getting nibbles from a tasting menu that would titillate my appetite without ever satisfying it. The longer I lingered the more connections I was able to discern and the smarter, subtler, and more deeply considered the whole exhibition became.
In a title essay on the role of the curator in the exhibition’s catalog, Jamie Stern writes that “the curator creates zones for new thought.” It was fascinating to see how often these zones overlapped. Robin Juan and Larry Ossei-Mensah both hung paintings so firmly rooted in materiality, mark making, and texture that they could pass as sculpture if taken off the wall. Matt Nichol’s freestanding work, All my Friends #11 (marker) (2011), makes this transition, and its presence amongst the work on the walls is like that of someone in a pool beckoning those at the edge to just jump in already.
Brookhart Jonquil, Lumber Icosahedron, 2011, Acrylic mirror, paint, lumber and custom hardware, 228.6 x 243.8 x 121.9 cm; Courtesy of the artist and Meulensteen, New York, NY.
Nearby a spread of photographs lays across a tabletop and a tight little installation of overlapping light fixtures and mirrors rests on the ground. Curated by Rachel Cook, Not-Not-Not Image-Object implores one to muse upon the formal relationships established between the objects. What a photograph depicts and what a photograph actually is seems to be a distinction Cook wants to stress. Adjacent to Cook’s space, Susi Kenna & Tali Wertheimer curated a three-person show geared around audience participation. In this mix I admired Brookhart Jonquil’s sculpture, Lumber Icosahedron (2011), in which cuts of two-by-four are cleverly arranged within a set of hinged polyhedral mirrors to create the illusion of a geometric shape with twenty faces. Though I didn’t feel like I “activated” the object or transformed it through any “participation,” I marveled at his craftsmanship and the way the illusion in Jonquil’s structure functioned. Certain boards are nestled in the glass while others impale it or hang suspended in the air before it. Nothing in this work is extraneous or could be set at any angle other than what it is; that degree of exactitude and precision plays a balancing antithetical note to the chaos of Hugo McCloud’s mammoth mixed-media piece, Judith (2012), in Larry Ossei-Mensah’s aptly titled show, Beautiful Refuse: Materiality.
The exhibitions in the basement are poignantly grouped as well. Jenny Jaskey presents a video by Erik Blinderman and Lisa Rave called The Villages (2010), which documents an African village and a Floridian retirement home. Across the hall is Jordana Zeldin’s room, All the Boys and Girls, the keystone work of which being a home video of a young girl, maybe five or six, dialoging about her day. Here we are given to meditations of the elderly in correlation to the maundering discourse of a little girl. We go from hope to memory to expectation to longing.
Less direct is the pairing of Tiernan Morgan’s exhibition of figurative paintings and prints titled American Power with Court Square’s DIY feminist press and library. Morgan’s exhibition asked for a consideration of how ideologies emerge through mediums of communication and the images they present. Court Square’s copy and binding machines take up Morgan’s proposition. If the press won’t cover the news you’re interested in, start your own press. This one is called Pilot Press and there is a shelf nearby that holds copies of all the material that’s been published here over the course of the exhibition. Texts vary from thick academic theses to hand-written single page manifestos. At one point while I sat reading this literature I looked over at a signboard in Legacy Russel’s neighboring exhibition and had to smile. It read, “I just need you to be my audience for a moment.” I put the letter I was reading back on the shelf and obliged the request.
(Image at top: Matt Nichols, All my friends #11 (marker), 2011 , MDF, barn wood, aluminum and aerosol paint, 96.5 x 91.4 x 55.9 cm; Courtesy of the artist and Meulensteen, New York, NY.)