Scene & Herd

Independents' Day

New York

Left: “Bring the War Home” artist Lizzie Bougatsos. Right: “Bring the War Home” artist Cyprien Gaillard with curator Drew Heitzler.

It’s hard to know how an opening party will pan out when it’s scheduled for the Fourth of July, just as it’s hard to know how a show will pan out when its checklist runs to nineteen tightly spaced pages, but the novelty of both inspired me to give up on firecrackers, Budweiser, and hot dogs to make my way to Chelsea’s Elizabeth Dee Gallery. Early invitations for “Bring the War Home,” curated by artist, bar owner, and former gallery impresario Drew Heitzler, promised a political sampler heavy on scrappy ephemera, text, and time-based work, all in a gallery that (between you and me) only pipes air conditioning to its private offices. Freaky black clouds glowered ominously through the afternoon, and Tenth Avenue was deserted but for dog walkers, a streetwalker, and a few joggers. A satisfying evening seemed far from guaranteed.

Anxieties dissipated as I caught sight of a bona-fide mob gathered outside the gallery. “I knew it was going to be weird, but this is twice as many people as we have ever had for an opening at this time of year,” said a bemused Juniper Perlis, Dee’s second-in-command, struggling to ice beer at pace with the thirsty crowd. Answers why, it turns out, were on the wall. The exhibition showcases work and artifacts from dozens of cliques, cooperatives, and collaboratively minded artists past and present, and while the lack of focus could be a problem elsewhere, here it’s the source of a kind of unity. The work spreads, and a mood of togetherness spreads with it. By the time the snowballing energy hit home (a huge amount of material covered four giant trestle tables) the crowd had multiplied, now dotted with the likes of dealer Andrew Kreps, curator Bob Nickas, artists Lizzie Bougatsos and Matt Keegan, fashion designer Patrick Ervell, and independent curator Jenny Moore.

Left: Artist Erik Hanson. Right: RED-I Projects' Ingrid Chu with BANK's Simon Bedwell.

“I wanted to include as many pirate, prankster projects as I could,” Heitzler explained after I expressed my admiration for the works included by BANK, a collective who, among many other projects, opened a space called Gallerie Poo-Poo in London in the late ’90s, and whose longlasting infamous “faxback” service helpfully corrected myriad errors in gallery press releases. “I couldn’t have done this show without including them. And listen, if you’ve learned about something that you need to tell someone else, then my job here is done.” I wanted to tell Dee that he’d done his job, and that she had too, perfectly, when news of her wedding (in two days time!) knocked me off my course. After telling Dee that “you’ve broken William’s heart” (how did she guess?) critic and artist Barbara Pollack asked the busy bride for a full debriefing on the Brooklyn Botanic garden’s terrain so that she could pick the right shoes (heels on lawns are trouble if you prefer your scenery standing up). I mainly scratched my head at the dealer’s schedule: She’s even coming to work on the morning of her ceremony.

Left: “Bring the War Home” artist Matt Keegan. Right: Independent curator Jenny Moore.

A chaotic after-show barbecue crowd boarded The Frying Pan, a docked craft on the Westside piers that bobbed gently on the tide. Artist Fia Backstrom’s monogrammed Elizabeth Dee tablecloths looked swell under platters of burgers, dogs, and slaw, and there was a certain majesty to the distant fireworks display, though the hooting of a posse of Italian soccer fans, flush from a World Cup semifinal victory over Germany, put a stop to my nascent patriotic reverie. The gallery crowd dissipated softly, headed to other rooftop bashes around the boroughs, leaving Dee and her family (in town for her wedding), the increasingly blotto Italians, and a few more non-natives affiliated with the show. I felt lucky to meet BANK member Simon Bedwell, and over the course of a convivial chat he offered some thoughts on production and progress. “I lost my first teaching job in 1994 and went on the dole. None of us had jobs, and that’s when things began to come together for us creatively. It’s this horrible basic equation, that you really start to get good work done when you have nothing else to do.”

Left: Artist Josh Brand. Right: “Bring the War Home” artist Sam Gordon.