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alanna heiss

On the P.S. 1 Spring Openings and the Post-Alanna Era

P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center
Lutz Bacher, My Secret Life
Jonathan Horowitz, And/Or
Kenneth Anger
February 22 - September 14, 2009

February 26, 2009. I might eventually write something more extensive on P.S. 1, but a first impression of the three shows that opened on Sunday, February 22 - Lutz Bacher, Jonathan Horowitz, and Kenneth Anger - was that it felt like a rather thin and tepid affair, the issue-oriented credentials and vaunted cultural semiotic concerns of the various artists notwithstanding.

Bacher's main gallery, which the press release defines as "the installation's frenetic epicenter", contains her alterna-captioned news photos, reformulating world leaders as kibbitzers (JFK with Barry Goldwater: "So you want this fucking job?") or focusing on the utter strangeness of Jane Fonda during her anti-Vietnam War days.

Bacher also appropriates, to tasty effect that both critiques and rewards the "male gaze", some Vargas girl pinups taken from Playboy Magazine. It is a heady send-up of America's heedless cultural hegemony and shameless vulgarity during the 1960s, particularly trenchant in light of our current moment of uncertainty.

Alanna Heiss Officially Retiring from P.S. 1

December 29, 2008. From via the New York Press comes word that the retirement of Alanna Heiss as director of the P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, rumored for months if not years, has finally been made official. A press release was issued today by the Museum of Modern Art, the behemoth that absorbed P.S. 1 almost a decade ago.

Heiss founded The Institute for Art and Urban Resources in 1971, with the mission of turning underutilized buildings in New York City into artist studios and exhibition spaces. In 1976 she established P.S. 1 (Project Space One) in a huge, abandoned schoolhouse in Long Island City, Queens. It was a time of experimentation, conceptualism, post-minimalism, installation, video and performance art, of scrappy alternative art spaces with modest economies and big dreams, a commercial hiatus after the glut of Pop had run its course but before the burgeoning Neo Expressionist movement added social cachet and market share to the scene. The art gods of the moment included Lawrence Weiner, Richard Nonas, Keith Sonnier, Dennis Oppenheim, Robert Smithson, Gordon Matta Clark, Vito Acconci, Joseph Kossuth, James Turrell, Richard Tuttle and Bruce Nauman.

For over thirty years, Heiss has been P.S. 1's only director and its very visible figurehead. An idiosyncratic visionary who often runs the space like a personal fiefdom, she is given to an uncompromising, by-the-seat-of-her-pants management style. This allows for bursts of curatorial and organizational brilliance, for early discoveries of emerging artists, collaborations with young curators and critics, and for challenging the paradigms of exhibition. Heiss has a mercurial temperament, an impulsive energy marked by sudden enthusiasms and antipathies. She has been described as "feisty" and "brassy". This can bring dramatic successes but also public failures, the built-in flip side of a highly experimental posture.

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