New York

Bruce High Quality Foundation

The Bruce High Quality Foundation—an officially anonymous New York–based art collective, which drew attention to itself in 2005 by prankishly attempting to deliver by motorboat a scaled-down version of one of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s saffron-colored “gates” to Robert Smithson’s posthumously iterated Floating Island on the Hudson River—is now taking on art education. In September 2009, BHQF established the Bruce High Quality Foundation University, promoted as a free, unaccredited, antihierarchical, and collaborative art school in Tribeca. The declaration on the group’s website speaks to anxieties about the state of art education that are shared by many artists, critics, and scholars: “Something’s got to give. The $200,000-debt-model of art education is simply untenable. Further, the education artists are getting for their money is mired in irrelevance. . . . Blind romanticism and blind professionalism are in a false war alienating artists from their better histories. . . . Arts education is divided between the practical problems of form (e.g., money: how to get it, raise it, administer it, and please the powers that control it) and the slippery problems of metaphor (e.g., education: how to learn, what to learn, why to learn).”

But it’s worth noting here that the Cooper Union—which, apparently, some (or all) members of BHQF hail from—is itself a tuition-free institution. Its faculty includes Hans Haacke, one of several artists of an older generation whose effective unpacking of the ideological/fiscal underpinnings of the art world helped alter our consciousness—even if it changed little on the ground. BHQF has decided to grapple with this dilemma by adopting an archly faux-populist, naive posture. The collective’s motto is “Professional Challenges. Amateur Solutions,” and a vein of dilettantism runs through many of the assemblage-like works in this exhibition, which were made by members of BHQF in collaboration with those attending the university. Its inaugural term was devoted to rethinking art history, which accounts for the resemblance of the works on view to hybrids of Duchamp, Rauschenberg, Johns, and Beuys, among other canonical figures, as well as for the undercurrent of self-conscious didacticism/antididacticism.

That all the works on view are credited to the Bruce High Quality Foundation blurs distinctions between students and the art collective itself. This slightly unnerving logic is reflexively alluded to in In the Future Everyone Will Be a Foundation, 2009, which captures the viewer on a small video screen and is decorated with various utilitarian objects, as well as a copy of the Scientologist tract Dianetics. From art collective to wacky quasi-religious cult in just a few easy steps? The show’s most enigmatic and curiously funny work, NASA (The Natural Association of Students of Art), 2009, plunked down in the middle of the space, is a kind of spaceship pod adorned in fake red brick; equipped with an air conditioner, its interior features fluorescent lights and a wooden chair, which functions as a platform for a sound system that transmits music I could swear was right out of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Another blackboard piece, What Happens in the Art World Stays in the Art World, 2009, speaks to BHQF’s trafficking in the same tautological system about which the group claims to harbor fundamental doubts. BHQF’s practice seems predicated upon the assumption that we don’t mind these contradictions any longer; it’s probably closer to the truth that we feel handcuffed by such ideological constraints. BHQF plays with (self-)institutionalization as a semiautonomous art group, creating the illusion of control in relation to putatively “hegemonic” systems, and lambasting the interpenetrations of art school and art commerce, from an outside-inside/inside-outside metaposition. But just how seriously does BHQF (or the university) actually want (or need) to be taken? The collective and its university are symptomatic of a kind of artistic ennui stemming from a milieu of art collectivity that seems on the verge of losing its political vocation, wherein every irreverent gesture about art, each dig at the art-educational system, all those insider/outsider art-historical jokes, lead us back to the same ideological dilemmas. I still have hope for BHQF’s endeavor, but the collective needs to emancipate itself from these art-world-centric preoccupations, and intrepidly start from scratch.

Joshua Decter