New York

Renée Green

Pat Hearn Gallery

How is taste made and unmade? Renee Green addressed this question in her most recent project Taste Venue, 1994, by seeking to don multiple hats—cultural anthropologist, gallerist, social historian, esthetician, booking agent, curator, and cultural critic—in order to remind us once again that Eurocentric cultural values cannot claim universal validity. Green has long been preoccupied with exploring why the fundamental ethnic, racial, and ideological hybridity of our culture is still not widely acknowledged or understood, and with addressing how distinct, and occasionally antagonistic, cultural languages and experiences inform one another. In an effort to examine these issues in a new way, Green used this occasion to create conditions in which cultural intersections and interactions could become more than merely symbolic. She placed an advertisement in the “party section” of The Village Voice classifieds offering the gallery as a rental space for entertainment-oriented events. Acting as a booking agent with assistance from her musician brother Derrick (who appears with his band in a video shot by Green), she sought to induce people from different cultural arenas to plug into the “hip”—now user-friendly—milieu of a gallery. The results of this experiment were rather telling: with the exception of a Sylvia Heisel fashion show and hip-hop clothing-line shoot, only members of the art community took immediate advantage of the relatively low rental fees to stage their own miniexhibitions. So much for crossover.

To a certain extent, the show functioned as a framing device for these events. In the gallery’s front corridor, hung a series of Plexiglas signs, each offering what the press release identified as “department headings”—i.e., hip phrases from current magazines (“special news,” “buzz,” “A-List,” etc.). Further on, the main gallery room was filled with ephemera including a series of almost elegant black and white photographs of different places visited and/or lived in by the artist; a little metal shack (described as a time capsule) that contained various materials accumulated by Green; a reflective, iridescent disco-style sign that read “venue”; and strips of yellow tape inscribed with the phrase “space variable/ variable space” framing sections of the otherwise blank gallery wall.

At the back of the gallery, Green’s installation resembled a furniture/artifact showroom (an extension of a number of recent projects reexamining European colonialism and the slave trade through the framework of 18th-century decoration). It was comprised of chairs, wall drapery, and a chaise longue covered in beautiful cotton toile that the artist designed at The Fabric Workshop in Philadelphia in 1992. The fabric’s patterns were based on scenarios in 18th-century engravings (such as the lynching of a French imperial soldier by a Haitian revolutionary) that invoke the racial, class-based, and cultural relations of the period. In this, the most persuasive component of her show (because it offered a visually seductive environment in which compelling historical critique caught us by surprise), Green poignantly evoked Walter Benjamin’s conceit that every document of culture is at the same time a document of barbarism.

Never one for modest expectations, Green attempted to link her faith in art as a vehicle for rigorous cultural analysis with a commitment to expanding discussions about art’s social and political functions, systems of display and commerce, and the status of “institutional critique.” To drive her ideas home even further, Green organized a symposium (“Negotiations in the Contact Zone”) at The Drawing Center in New York that took place at the end of her exhibition. Finally, all of this was glued together by Green’s impulse to treat art-making as a process of “culture-collecting,” the only liability being that she risked duplicating those very patterns of cultural hegemony she sought to interrogate by erecting her own framework of authority.

Joshua Decter