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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.

John Miller organizes "The Big Payback" at Swiss Institute

Swiss Institute, New York
curated by John Miller
February 18 - April 4, 2009

Barbara Bloom, Sophie Calle, Trisha Donnelly, Sam Durant, Maria Eichhorn, Sylvie Fleury, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Dan Graham, Renée Green, Fabrice Gygi, Jamie Isenstein, Mike Kelley, Louise Lawler, Leigh Ledare, Sam Lewitt, Allan McCollum, Jeffrey Charles Henry Peacock, Mai-Thu Perret, Walter Robinson, Aura Rosenberg, Jim Shaw, Greg Parma Smith, John Waters, Lawrence Weiner

John Waters, Loser Gift Basket, 2006

February 25, 2009. Andrew Goldstein's snippet in New York magazine provides an interesting take on REGIFT, the exhibition organized by artist/curator/critic John Miller at Swiss Institute. But rather than viewing the show as a commentary on a potential new art world gift economy occasioned by the larger recession/depression, I rather thought REGIFT offered testimony to the social support system that Miller has built for himself. In effect, it acknowledges the many perks that he has enjoyed over the years as a darling of the art world - gifts of exhibitions, employment, travel, fellowships, etc. - and attempts to offer a commensurate recompense. Nothing is being given away here. What we have is standard careerist logrolling.

From the Archives: 40 Years/40 Projects, at White Columns, New York

Willoughby Sharp, Inside-Out, at 112 Greene Street, 1974

White Columns, the venerable downtown New York alternative arts space, celebrates its fortieth birthday this year. A retrospective exhibition, organized by Matthew Higgs and Amie Scally, the current WC director and curator, provides a necessary historical overview of its various SoHo and West Village addresses, and of the hundreds of projects and thousands of artists that have passed through its doors. From the Archives: 40 Years/40 Projects continues through February 28, 2009.

Forty years, one show from each year, is a good structure. Like any retrospective, there is a high nostalgia quotient for those who viewed the particular exhibitions when they were first mounted at 112 Greene, 325 Spring, the two Christopher Street locations or the current West 13th Street address of White Columns.

The show is decidedly archival and historical. There is some actual work - by Frank Majore, Lutz Bacher, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Cheryl Donegan, John Stezaker, Kathe Burkhart, Lovett/Codagnone - but mostly we find documentation of the events: press releases, invitation cards, exhibition checklists, installation photography, typed artists' statements and letters, posters, catalogs, brochures, slides, videos, photos from the openings, a short grainy film, clippings of reviews from various magazines and newspapers (some no longer being published - another lesson in ephemerality).

Performance Power Grab, and MoMA Gets a Sehgal

January 1, 2009. On reading Erica Orden's "Collecting Smoke" text in New York Magazine examining MoMA's upcoming two year performance art initiative, which includes a Marina Abramovic retrospective and the acquisition of Tino Sehgal's The Kiss, all under the direction of the very enterprising Klaus Biesenbach, I felt compelled to jot down a couple of thoughts. A version of the text below also appears as a comment under my pseudonym on the New York Magazine site.

Klaus Biesenbach and Glenn Lowry, 2004

Tino Sehgal was selected for the German pavilion at the 2005 Venice Biennale, was shortlisted for the Hugo Boss Prize, and has been a darling of a small but influential coterie of international jet setting curators of which Biesenbach counts himself a particularly ambitious member. So it is not surprising to see MoMA finally buy one of the "constructed situations" pieces, following the lead of the Tate and the Walker. To paraphrase another Sehgal work, "This Is Not New", especially for a curator eager to establish his bonafides over an entire realm of artmaking.

Obituary of Willoughby Sharp in the New York Times, December 31, 2008

I have been watching the pages of the New York Times for an obituary of Willoughby Sharp. Joseph Nechvatal emailed me from Paris this morning with news of its publication.

The piece, by Margalit Fox, is found on page B16 of the New York print edition of December 31, 2008. It appeared online a day earlier, accompanied by a 1967 picture of Willoughby with long hair, dark glasses and wearing a white turtleneck/tunic ensemble.

I also referenced the piece on the Sharpville site.

Willoughby Sharp, 72, Versatile Avant-Gardist, Is Dead
Published: December 30, 2008

Even by conceptual-art standards, Willoughby Sharp’s work stood out. There was his gestational spin in a clothes dryer. There was the curious affair of the talcum powder, the teddy bear and the tab of LSD. And there was the Oklahoma Gun Incident, which members of the art world still discuss, with a mixture of horror and awe, more than 30 years later.

Mr. Sharp, the Ivy League-educated scion of one of New York’s most socially prominent families, who in the 1960s and afterward was on the cutting edge of the American avant-garde as a performer, producer, writer, publisher, curator, video artist and much else, died on Dec. 17 in Manhattan. He was 72 and lived in Brooklyn.

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.

Merry Christmas 2008

December 24, 2008. If you see this man crawling down your chimney tonight brandishing a butt plug, do not call the authorities. It just means you are enjoying a postmodern Christmas. As Sigmund Freud might have said: "Sometimes a chocolate Santa with butt plug is just a chocolate Santa with butt plug".

Sharpville, a website in memory of Willoughby Sharp

Sharpville is a website started earlier this year as "a meeting place for friends and lovers of Willoughby Sharp". It is open to participation by all: to view or add photos and videos, to participate in the discussion forum or chat room, to share tall tales and innumerable stories, to announce events. The photo above (from 1985) and the video below (from the 2007 restrospective exhibition at Mitchell Algus Gallery) are both taken from the site.

Willoughby passed away early in the morning on Wednesday, December 17, 2008, at St. Rose's Home on the Lower East Side, after a long battle with throat cancer. He is survived by his longtime partner Pamela Seymour Smith and by our fond collective memories.

WILLOUGHBY SHARP -- 1936 - 2008 -- R.I.P.

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