New York

Renée Green, Marion von Osten, and Peter Spillmann

This show presupposed that mythical beast, the gallery-goer willing to part with a bit of time—a highly valued commodity in New York. Outgoing Swiss Institute director Annette Schindler assembled these three separate installations around the idea of cultural labor. Projects by Renée Green, well known to the New York audience, and Marion von Osten and Peter Spillmann, Swiss artists who have often collaborated, encouraged a hands-on approach and devoted relatively little attention to questions of aesthetics. This relaxed attitude toward the conditions of display only lent more weight to the theme of production, giving priority to the participatory nature of the exhibition rather than focusing on the artists’ finished output.

Green’s installation, Platform: Ongoing Dialogues and Work (all works 2000), was the latest in a decade-long series of projects exploring the social processes involved in art’s making and its reception. The operative term in much of Green’s practice is “accretion,” which refers to the elements of growth and fusion that result from the gatherings she organizes in conjunction with her shows. Platform partly consisted of a series of public presentations and discussions with invited groups and individuals (architects, artists, Web designers, publishers) that were documented and accessible in the form of slides, texts, and videos scattered around the space for browsing. Like much event-oriented work of the ’60s and ’70s (Happenings and performance art), Green’s platforms combine live interaction with the evidence of past activities. The actual objects that constitute the more tangible aspect of her work are not confined to the walls of the gallery; each installation offers both a vehicle for future cooperation and a glimpse into the current state of Green’s research.

Spillmann’s contribution was also based on an additive process. He presented a work in progress, Are You One of Them?, the main component of which was reached through a Web site ( that seeks essays and images taking critical aim at the “newness” of the much-hyped New Economy. On simple shelves he displayed a series of mounted and enlarged media promotions for e-commerce products that pointed to the continuity in advertising between the pre- and postdigital eras. The consistent and not-so-surprising message among these recent ads was one of fluid business transactions in a world of hip, Net-friendly consumers. The common equation of entrepreneurship with a hassle-free lifestyle is one of Spillmann’s primary targets.

Von Osten highlighted the connections between labor and leisure, setting up a temporary video-rental station in the gallery, Oblomov’s Corner Videotheque. Like the main character in Ivan Aleksandrovich Goncharov’s 1859 novel Oblomov, who spends his days under the covers, visitors could watch videos while stretched out on a hot-pink bed or take them home overnight for a small fee. All the films addressed the topic of work, from Hollywood features like Colin Higgins’s Nine to Five (1980) to the low-budget productions of the activist group Paper Tiger Television. Adding an element of fantasy, von Osten included several cassette sleeves that advertised nonexistent films, perhaps alluding to future work opportunities.

While the three installations could have been better integrated to form a more cohesive exhibition (though it wasn’t actually clear that this was the goal), Schindler persuasively demonstrated that the growing presence of art dependent on the viewer’s collaboration continues to redefine the gallery experience. For the visitor who took the time to adequately engage the materials, the line between work and play blurred. In opposition to the digital economy’s promotion of one’s place of employment as just another personal style decision, these artists propose labor as a critically motivated form of leisure.

Gregory Williams