Acid House

Andrew Hultkrans on Black Acid Co-op at Deitch Projects

New York

Left: Artist Jonah Freeman with dealer Andrew Kreps. Right: Dealer Jeffrey Deitch. (All photos: David Velasco)

THERE WAS NO ACID at last Thursday’s opening of Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe’s fully immersive installation Black Acid Co-op at Deitch Projects. There was no black, either, unless you count the carbon on the singed and burned furniture and plyboard walls in some of the rooms (the traces of meth-lab meltdowns). I mention this because the title (and the press copy) seemed to promise some kind of early-1970s-aesthetic abattoir, the half-charred ruins of a Hell’s Angels headquarters–slash–Symbionese Liberation Army safe house. Inside the mazelike, three-story structure that completely obscures the original gallery space, there are rooms that suggest bombed-out Bakersfield bungalows and posthippie crash pads, but they are abutted by other anachronistic spaces—an Upper East Side living room, a Chinatown variety store.

Fortunately, the off-message rooms are among the most interesting and well wrought. The upper-class salon, for instance, is hung with photographs suggesting some Rosemary’s Baby–style ritual involving crystals and cacti. In the center of the room, several sculptures made of what looks to be severely distressed furniture sit in vitrines. On their sides, melted Walkmans contain cassettes, one of which is a Christian record called Life on the Planet Is Fun by one Charley Thweatt. A couple rooms over, inside a dank, burned meth-lab kitchen, a VHS tape of Richard Simmons’s Disco Sweat lies discarded on the counter, covered with plaster dust. It is these (unintentional?) echoes—along with the artists’ penchant for amassing inspired detritus—that hold Black Acid Co-op together. The level of detail is positively granular. On opening night, a summer thunderstorm drove the punters in quickly and kept them there, and some of the crowd (myself included) used the time to soak up the atmosphere. One could spend an hour in some of the rooms and still not take in every element. Still, I was hoping for more black nationalism.

Freeman and Lowe began this cycle of work at Ballroom Marfa in 2008 with a commissioned installation (with Alexandre Singh) called Hello Meth Lab in the Sun; the work was modified slightly later in the year for Hello Meth Lab with a View, which opened in a disused condo during Art Basel Miami Beach. Black Acid Co-op re-creates many of the rooms present in the earlier installations, and it is, in a sense, merely the retitled New York debut of the original work with some additional touches. This doesn’t make it any less impressive. As with much large-scale “super-realistic” installation art, particularly works that require such Herculean effort (consider Christoph Büchel or Mike Nelson), there’s a giant “Why?” hanging over the whole thing, but the artists’ flair for collaged environments and obsessive attention to detail provide their own justification.

Left: Deitch Projects director Nicola Vassell. Right: Artists Kehinde Wiley and Justin Lowe.

It was amusing, if incongruous, to be moving through these tawdry, dilapidated spaces alongside a fashionable, good-looking crowd of New Yorkers. Overhearing well-scrubbed young people discussing their workweeks and travel plans while standing in a dark, dusty room filled with ratty paperbacks with penned-on titles like We Eat Fever, Satan, You Fraud, and Forget the Abjection offers a special kind of cognitive dissonance. The artist Kehinde Wiley told Lowe that he found the installation “cinematic,” a vibe that Lowe affirmed was “intentional.” John Currin and Jeffrey Deitch (just back from a Jeff Koons opening in London) looked just as lost in the dishabille environment as the rest of us. No sight of Goldie Hawn, who had apparently made an appearance at the last opening in the space (Francesco Clemente). Given the makeshift stairs and jagged, broken-wall portals between rooms, the word liability crossed my mind a few times. And, indeed, one woman did fall down the stairs to the basement Chinatown “store,” filled with odd Asian products, fossils in vitrines, garish, airbrushed pornographic T-shirts, and Chinese-language flyers that, apparently, translate into segments of Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell. She survived the fall, uninjured.

The overarching theme of the “Meth Lab” shows is alchemy—transmuting allergy medicine into meth, industrial and cultural detritus into art, gallery spaces into houses. To which one could add: transforming apparent randomness into a higher order. The varied rooms in Black Acid Co-op may not match, but I left the opening with a sense of having visited a special corner of hell, an infernal Habitrail where sinners of different classes conduct illicit activities and rituals on top of and beside one another. Sort of like certain New York neighborhoods. Jane Jacobs would be proud.

Left: Deitch Projects director Kathy Grayson. Right: Artist John Currin.

Left: The doorman. Right: Attendees hang out in the Black Acid Co-op.