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Collective Collectivization

Collective Show 2010
Participant, 253 East Houston Street, NYC
September 15-26, 2010

Back in town, I am stumbling around. It seems I have walked into a season of alternative fever. In the demi-institutional sphere (institutions in our own minds) there is much excitement about the giant Exit Art survey, “Alternative Histories,” opening this Friday. The Lower East Side mini-alt Participant jumped the starting gun on the first big survey show of this history since 1981,* producing the “Collective Show.” It's a gathering of very recently formed art ventures.

There is 30 of these, wrangled into the storefront by a group called Silvershed. It's a dense, interesting exhibition, and the opening was full of young people I don't know. I can not call these “collectives,” however, since I believe this term should be reserved for cultural groups with instrumental intentions. “Collective” is too broadly used, and has become thereby denatured. I explain: The recent emergence – and by that I mean “popularity” throughout the mainstream of art study and practice – of collective formations in cultural work is primarily an outcome of the peaceful revolutions of 1989. At that moment, as socialist state-controlled culture infrastructures collapsed, artists sought to rescue the baby from the bathwater. They began to organize to do cultural work with a social purpose, work they called collective in conscious emulation of the heroic period of modernist revolution.

There is already a kind of initial Euro-American canon of these groups, laid out in a series of exhibitions since the mid-2000s. These were “Get Rid of Yourself,” in Weimar and Leipzig (2003 – that's the Former East, unsurprisingly) ; “Collective Creativity” (2005), organized by the Croatian curatorial collective What, How & for Whom at Kunsthalle Fridericianum (a Siemens Arts Program, which some found objectionable, despite that the curators were red diaper babies); “When Artists Say We” (2006), curated at Artists Space by Andrea Geyer and Christian Rattemeyer (the embrace of the word “curated” expresses already problems with this show); “Locally Localized Gravity” at the Philadelphia ICA (2007; a wussy U.S. follow-up); and more recently, the intriguing “Descent to Revolution” (2009) at Columbus College of Art & Design in Ohio.

The most likely model for the “Collective Show” is the X Initative, a very connected, decently funded, perfectly situated alternative mini-mall of art of art projects launched in the fomer Dia space. “Bring Your Own Art,” the “24-hour marathon” of democratic exhibitionism that took place at the X Initiative closed out that project. Apart from a lecture by Lotringer, that is all I saw there between my travels that year. This “celebration of the chaotic energies of art and a joyful subversion of hierarchies” was the closing event in a very interesting project to make use of the derelict Chelsea building that had served the Dia Foundation and seeded the Chelsea art district. I even missed the prime hours of that event, and walked through the ruined de-installed remains, even as the long-bearded Buddhist real estate agent and his crew closed in for a look around to see what they could do with the property. It seemed like a sorry end to the X Initiative's “Phase 3” – cultural democracy on a shoestring, and with a stopwatch.

Last year X Initiative produced “No Soul For Sale: A Festival of Independents” (2009), a lärmische mini-art fair which was pretty interesting, and international. The ex-Dia space has also hosted superman AA Bronson's Printed Matter-sponsored art book fairs, which have been spectacular circuses for the mind. (Dia in the past hosted Printed Matter for years in its space in Soho.) “Collective” seems like a sort of attempt to reprise that in a tiny space (relatively speaking) – in fact, one of the project, Primetime, used the same tape-on-the-floor demarking device that “No Soul” participants were penned into. This gang was cranking out catalogue-ish zines onsite, with a pile of donuts ready at hand. This I dug. I'm a bookish person, I guess – and making it on the spot is always intriguing... although it's not really new at this point – launched a print-on-demand bookmobile in '02.

Well, like I say, I just got back to town, and I really have no idea what is going on. Looking around I see the New Museum recently hosted a panel, “Negotiating the Urgency of Alternative Art Spaces,” part of their Museum as Hub series. Museum as what? Hubcap? Don't good-hearted teens steal those? Maybe not. Well, they do now – see Tabacalera in Madrid, and Gängeviertel in Hamburg, two recent artist occupations carried out with government approval. (In the first case it was direct; in the second, a grudging acceptance of a strategic occupation.

(Jesus, what's he talking about??) Forget it. I had to post this before the show closes – it's only up for 10 days. And I'm acting like a daily reporter. I'm not very good at it. Please correct me.

* Jacki Apple's 1981 Alternatives in Retrospect surveyed the “classic period” in Soho, 1969-1975 at the New Museum when it was on 14th Street, and made an underground hero of Gordon Matta-Clark.

Alternatives in Retrospect (1981)

The Collective Show at Participant

The image is the top Google image search for “collective” on the day this was written. From Knowledge Management News website, The goofy Village Voice-style headline is an allusion – to the GTO's song, “Circular Circulation.”