“HiJack!”

Jack Shainman Gallery | West 20th Street
513 West 20th Street
August 2, 2012–September 1, 2012

Chris Mottalini, Burj Al Arab (Dubai), 2012, archival ink-jet print mounted to dibond, 20 x 30".

The premise of “HiJack!” is what the organizers call a “soft takeover”: Three art handlers employed by Shainman have temporarily seized the curatorial duties of the gallery’s director. The art handlers–cum-curators now decide what goes into the exhibition as well as how and under what discursive conditions it is presented. The result might best be described as a twenty-first-century Salon des RefusÚs, in that the organizers selected work by young artists, many of whom are neither on Shainman’s roster nor typically shown in Chelsea. While much of the work addresses labor, the strongest transforms that seemingly dusty, nineteenth-century obsession into a prismatic looking glass, examining relations between issues of race, colonialism, and the public sphere. A jagged, colorful square of glass from Odili Donald Odita’s current MTA commission explores the function of public art and transportation, particularly in neighborhoods that have witnessed racial conflict, like Bensonhurst, where this particular work will be installed. The racial politics of Dubai also make an appearance: An inky black photograph by Chris Mottalini miniaturizes the luxury hotel Burj Al Arab, whose labor practices indulge a brutal brand of late-capitalist slavery.

The exhibition’s strength lies in its attempt, however circumscribed, to seize the means of production. This novel approach distinguishes it from shows that merely trot out work about labor or update the obligatory “staff art show.” And it is underscored by other imaginative elements, including a press release in the form of a ransom letter that avoids the usual academic word soup, a small library of books and films on art and politics, and free wireless Internet to all in range. Such resources encourage one to stay a while in a space he or she might otherwise breeze through.

— Jordan Troeller