Avant Guard

Michael Wilson on “Artists Guarding Artists” at Family Business

Left: Curators Peter J. Hoffmeister and Laura Murray. Right: Artist Fred Fleisher with Fred's Head—Eat Me. (All photos: Michael Wilson)

THE IRRESISTIBLE PREMISE of “Artists Guarding Artists,” a summer group exhibition at Family Business, is that the folk who watch sternly from a corner as one edges closer to classical statuary at the Met—or contemporary installations at the Whitney—are most likely artists themselves, supplementing meager incomes by loitering on the cultural periphery. The show’s two young curators have both earned their custodial stripes—Laura Murray is a New Museum visitors’ assistant and Family Business gallerina, while Peter J. Hoffmeister is a Met guard and former coeditor of SW!PE, a magazine dedicated to showcasing work by his fellow employees. Canvassing MoMA and the Guggenheim as well as their own workplaces, the pair uncovered a rich seam of underexposed talent, reminding us that the illustrious likes of Brice Marden, Robert Ryman, Robert Mangold, Dan Flavin, and Eric Fischl—not to mention your correspondent—were all once employed to keep greasy fingers away from vulnerable surfaces.

Those familiar with the cramped space of Maurizio Cattelan and Massimiliano Gioni’s latest experiment in gallery management—they also collaborated on the still more confined Wrong Gallery in 2002—won’t be surprised to hear that the show’s recent opening spilled immediately onto Twenty-First Street. Fortunately the cops were nowhere in evidence as attendees took their light beers and Two-Buck Chuck to go, and a relaxed, familial vibe set in. I chatted with painter Yoichiro Yoda (not showing here but playing for Team Met) about his pet topic, the almost-extinct movie palace, and with sculptor Matt Callinan (also batting for 1000 Fifth Avenue, and represented in the show by a delicate plastic snowflake) about the many and varied challenges of grant and residency applications. As the street got busier, the event began to feel more like a reunion, with shop talk and gossip about the city’s treasure houses gathering volume and pace.

Left: Artist Yoichiro Yoda with Catalina Pena. Right: Musician Cody Westphal.

The show itself presents a relatively affectionate view of the guard’s professional lot. Hung salon style (is there any other way in this miniscule storefront—actually a subset of Anna Kustera Gallery?), against distinguished sage-green walls, it features twenty works interspersed with empty gilt frames. Among those that respond more directly to the museum environs is Hoffmeister’s own cyanotype floor plan of the Met, which he reimagines as a cross between its current self and a kind of primordial organic counterpart, and Emile Lemakis’s Uniganger (aka Baby Guard), a diminutive self-portrait doll (shades of Cattelan) in a familiar blue uniform. The extent to which hours clocked in the presence of greatness has augmented these artists’ own practices remains debatable, but at least it hasn’t intimidated them. (An exception to this rule is Jeff Elliot, whose drawing Fuck You Picasso slams the master as an albatross around every contemporary artist’s neck).

Around 7:30 PM, artist Fred Fleischer announced a giveaway of the first edition of Fred’s Heads—Eat Me, a small self-portrait bust cast in solid milk chocolate and sealed inside a plastic bag. Once the first set of these tasty skulls was snapped up and stashed (the heat seemed threatening, but mine remains recognizable a day later, albeit it with a slight bloom), Cody Westphal launched into an acerbic guitar-’n’-harmonica set (announcing “The Elevator Operator Blues”: “This is a song about being a guard in a museum . . . ”). This was followed by animated poetry readings from Christopher Molusso, Robert Calero, and Samuel Perry, all SW!PE contributors. As the sky over Chelsea began to darken, Fleisher and entourage headed for local watering hole the Brass Monkey. His stay would be a brief one, though, because, as he explained with dutiful resignation, “I’ve gotta be at the Met by twelve—I’m working the night shift.”