Market Forces

Michael Wang around New York

New York

Left: Benj Gerdes and Anthony Graves. Right: Lize Mogel and guest.

Last Saturday afternoon, the thirty-eigth class of the Whitney Independent Study Program in Studio Art and the third class in the ISP’s Architecture and Urban Studies program held a “non-opening” for their end-of-year exhibition. A crowd made up mostly of the students and their friends attended the “non-event” (as the invite billed it), held in the basement of the ISP’s Lafayette Street space, and a sort of knowing camaraderie permeated the show (which had actually “opened” the day before). The program’s legacy of socially engaged practice certainly encourages a particular approach to artmaking, and the work betrayed a common understanding and shared ethic (sometimes described as “cultishness”) among the artists and architects, despite their different methods. As one student put it, the applicant pool is, well, “self-selective.” The fact that all the students, in all four of the program’s divisions (studio art, architecture and urban studies, curatorial studies, and critical studies) attend shared lectures probably doesn’t help nurture seeds of latent iconoclasm either. Ron Clark’s familiar diet of Marxism- and feminism-inflected poststructuralism remains synonymous with the ISP’s “agenda.”

While some of the work did indeed rehearse a rather hackneyed ‘80s criticality (one woman cut and pasted her abjected body into art-historical masterworks), there was a sense that some artists were moving beyond the particular brand of theory-informed practice the program was known for in its heyday. But the best of the Whitney work situated the history of those critical practices front and center. Mixing and matching avant-garde practices (conceptualism, institutional critique…), Sergio Torres’s piles of white-on-red canvases replicated banners from the 1917 Russian Revolution—perhaps a reference to ISP graduate George Baker’s comparison of the program with the revolutionary Moscow art school VKhUTEMAS? The program’s tradition of collaboration (think back to the ‘70s when many members of the downtown artists’ group Colab came straight out of the ISP) also remained alive and well: Indeed, one of the strongest (and perhaps most ambivalent) works in the show was produced by a group. Labeled simply “Collaborative Project,” it was a large digital wall display that showed the current time in Baghdad, succinctly accompanied by a plaque bearing the city’s name.

Left: Adam Cvijanovic. Right: Mari Spirito and Christopher K. Ho.

Across town in the Essex Street Market, “Jack,” featuring three emerging artists, was opening at the gallery/project space Cuchifritos. Located inside the sixty-year-old marketplace (an indoor bazaar offering everything from fresh produce to haircuts), the venue situated the work both within and against the context of daily life on the Lower East Side. Artist Gedi Sibony explained: “I appreciate that you have to walk through something real to get here,” gesturing toward a painted metal table with umbrella just outside the gallery entrance. The one-room show was dominated by Adam Cvijanovic’s fittingly (given the location) very Arcades Project panorama. Picturing the construction of a suburban housing development, the expansive and airy painting provided a context for Sibony and Ian Burns’s smaller sculptures, echoing their plywood and found building materials with delicately rendered two-by-fours. Riffing on “jack” themes—“Jack of all trades, hijacked…”—guest curator Christopher K. Ho explained his conception of an American masculinity that he saw as defining the work and the show. Co-curator Mari Spirito chimed in, “We liked the idea of naming our show a name—a proper name." Strangely enough, Coronas—the antithesis of macho—were being served. With all the brainstorming on machismo, why hadn’t anyone thought of Jack and Cokes?