New York

Judi Werthein

If two landmarks in the brief history of the carpet in contemporary art include Lawrence Weiner’s A SQUARE REMOVAL FROM A RUG IN USE, 1969, and Rudolph Stingel’s Plan B, 2004, the centerpiece of Judi Werthein’s “Corporate Logo” exhibition aims to combine the critical gravity of the former with the visual punch of the latter. The artist blanketed the floor of Art in General’s gallery with a custom-made wall-to-wall black rug patterned in a white, step-and-repeat motif with a logo she devised (with the help of a graphic designer) for the organization. And that was it: an expanse of carpet and bare walls. Entering the room, one might have mistaken it for a newly spiffed-up corporate lobby. Werthein’s trademark comprises a lowercase a, abstracted into an open loop with a short stem, and the same form next to it, rotated one hundred and eighty degrees to appear as an uppercase G. The downtown alternative art space was thus logofied à la the gridded insignias of Gucci or Louis Vuitton.

The occasion for Werthein’s project was the twenty-fifth anniversary of Art in General, which invited the Buenos Aires–born, Brooklyn-based artist to participate in a commemorative group show at the UBS Art Gallery. Possibly roused by this coupling of nonprofit and mega-corporation, she proposed instead to create a brand identity for the harder-up half of the pair, and her involvement in the UBS exhibition was cancelled. While the carpet is its most salient manifestation, the endeavor also took on other, more ephemeral forms, with Art in General using Werthein’s emblem on its stationery, press materials, website, and business cards. The venture is tamer than much of her earlier work. Turismo, 2000, for example, which was shown at that year’s Havana Biennial, is a large photograph of an Alpine snowscape in front of which Cuban citizens had their Polaroid photos shot, souvenirs of a trip they were not permitted to take, while for her 2005 project Brinco, Werthein designed “crossing trainer” sneakers, complete with compass, map, and flashlight, and distributed them to Mexican migrants intent on crossing the US border. The risk of this installation, as with those works, is too pat a target; few would disagree that the slide toward the corporate in artistic production and among cultural establishments is, like Castro’s regime and US anti-immigration policies, fraught territory. “Corporate Logo” is, in some ways, easy irony: A not-for-profit organization whose founding mission was to “create a space where artists could exhibit unconventional work” experiments with positioning itself, via one such artist, as a branded entity.

Werthein’s symbol has a sixties look, and indeed one line of the gallery booklet about the project, referencing potential conflicts of interest between art institutions and corporations, notes, “This dilemma is not new,” while a letter to the artist from curator Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy tacked to the wall cites Michael Asher’s installations of nearly four decades ago. “Corporate Logo” is institutional critique in endgame mode, full-circle arrival at one of the paradoxes Benjamin H. D. Buchloh identified in work by, among others, Daniel Buren, whereby “the campaign to critique conventions of visuality with textual interventions, billboard signs, anonymous handouts, and pamphlets inevitably ends by following the pre-established mechanisms of advertising and marketing campaigns.” Werthein runs down these conventions too—she intended “to shun any display of traditional artwork like painting or sculpture”—but does so using the operations of promotion and publicity.

Crucially, her intervention is temporary. That Art in General undertook to employ Werthein’s logo for less than six months means that the artist is ultimately withholding from the institution one of the most distinguishing features of a brand, continuity over time, and the recognition begotten by such continuity. In this impermanence, the work retains a measure of the subversiveness to which it is heir.

Lisa Turvey