Critics’ Picks

View of #class, 2010.

New York


Winkleman Gallery
621 West 27th Street
February 21–March 20

Mass education in the post–World War II period positioned pedagogy as a pivot between personal growth and wider sociopolitical transformation. Recent large-scale student protests against fee hikes and the profit-driven campus at the New School and throughout the University of California system can be seen as part of a larger reaction to how the prospect of education was subsequently instrumentalized as a consumer transaction. Similarly, a spate of artist collectives are reassessing how progressive pedagogical models can be employed as consciousness-raising tools. Joining related endeavors such as 16 Beaver, the Public School, e-flux’s Night School, and the Bruce High Quality Foundation University, artists William Powhida and Jennifer Dalton have created #class, a series of public workshops in a classroom setting that, in its eclectic sprawl, seeks to investigate the effects of the economic downturn on the field of art: on its production, reception, distribution, and consumption; on its educational institutions and its institutions of display.

The setup is simple: A room contains several worktables and chairs lined with four chalkboards. Dozens of programs and open-ended brainstorming sessions have been scheduled for the one-month duration of the exhibition, and the artists will be present on a daily basis to use the gallery as a studio space. The “curriculum” ranges from the intentionally hokey (motivational speakers promising to unleash “wild creativity”) to the near heretical (dealers guaranteeing to answer questions about the art market with complete transparency).

Powhida recently fueled a growing fire of controversy with his November 2009 Brooklyn Rail cover that criticized fiscal and curatorial decisions at the New Museum. In #class, he and Dalton have diagnosed the recent art-speculation boom as a form of market-driven relativism supplanting criticism. Self-education initiatives on the part of artists and other cultural producers may be the only thing that’s going to stop the trend toward the privatization of cultural institutions and the financialization of art.