Left: Jonathan Horowitz, Free Store, 2010, mixed media, dimensions variable. Yvon Lambert Gallery, New York, 2010. Right: Jonathan Horowitz, Free Store, 2009, mixed media, dimensions variable. Sadie Coles HQ, London, 2009.

Jonathan Horowitz is a New York–based artist known for his often-sardonic examination of value systems in media, culture, and politics. Here, he discusses his Free Store, which he first presented in 2009 at Sadie Coles and has since recreated several times. The latest iteration of the store will be on view as part of Art Unlimited at Art Basel from on June 10 to 16, 2013. Horowitz will open an exhibition of new work at Barbara Weiss in Berlin on June 21, which will be on view until August 3, 2013.

I ALWAYS HAD MISGIVINGS about hosting a Free Store at an art fair. I originally conceived of Free Store in relation to the pristine, highly controlled environment of an art gallery—I wanted to open the doors and invite anyone in to contaminate the space with junk. For this first incarnation, I made a series of modular pedestals from recycled plastic. When turned upside down, they acted as bins and put the earth on a pedestal, like Manzoni’s Base of the World. I was thinking of the earth as being like a free store—historically, people have thought that they can take whatever they want from it without consequence. Now we know a social contract is necessary for it to survive.

Free stores have existed at least since the late 1960s, when San Francisco–based art and activist collective The Diggers started one in Haight-Ashbury. They conceived of it as both a form of social service and as a happening. My versions have been more about infiltrating spaces that don’t feel free. In theory, art fairs, which exist to sell things to very rich people, would seem ripe for infiltration. So when asked to present Free Store at the 2012 Art Basel Miami Beach, I decided to just go with the flow—it seemed in keeping with the project. With sponsorship by an online luxury retailer, however, there were inevitable conceptual clashes, including barriers to entry. At the end of the day, it wasn’t clear who had infiltrated who.

Perhaps though, it just came down to an inflection of tone. It’s impossible to ignore the fact that art is a luxury good—hopefully amongst other things. And the sort of contradictions that the Miami Basel store elicited are in many ways the standard fare of this industry. So when asked to present the store again at an art fair, I thought twice and decided to go a little less with the flow. My condition for presenting the store was that it must be open to the public free of charge. For me, it’s important that the project engage the local community who wouldn’t necessarily come to the fair otherwise, as well as the art fair tourists who would never come to Basel otherwise.

People say that art fairs have killed art exhibitions, but exhibitions are just another construct. It’s a relief sometimes not to have to fit artworks into “shows” like so many puzzle pieces. For my exhibition at Barbara Weiss, my starting point was just making work. A number of the pieces will be Coke/Pepsi themed, which I see as a broad metaphor for capitalism and personal choice. In many ways, the works are about absolute control, which is opposite to Free Store, which is about endless possibility. Coke and Pepsi present an illusion of choice but you’re more or less choosing between the same thing. I have to say though, I prefer Coke to Pepsi—I imagine there actually is a difference, even if I can’t articulate what it is.

— As told to Allese Thomson

Left: Announcement for “The Cat Show,” 2013. (Photo: Dana Byerly) Right: Sam Roeck, Contemporary Art Sculpture for Cats #2, 2013, oak, plexiglas, carpet, linoleum, 52 x 30 x 30".

CATS AND ART TOGETHER AT LAST AT WHITE COLUMNS proclaims the press release for “The Cat Show,” an exhibition curated by writer and artist Rhonda Lieberman and developed in partnership with New York’s Social Tees Animal Rescue. Here Lieberman discusses the origins of the project and the “Cats-in-Residence Program,” where cats will be offered for adoption in the gallery on June 14 and 15, and July 19 and 20. The show is on view at White Columns from June 14 to July 27, 2013.

BACK IN THE MID-’90S, I lived in a loft in Long Island City and started tending an outdoor cat colony in an empty lot on my street. I wasn’t even a cat person when I moved in, but L.I.C. had tons of street cats and they pulled me in. The cat party started at dusk when we arrived with the cans. It was my favorite art installation at the time! The cats evaded discourse. They didn’t buy some discursive, blathering response! Going to this Zen kitty garden cleared a lot of the mishigas in my head.

High-rises were about to go up on the lot, displacing the cats my neighbors and I had grown fond of. We placed some and approached some rescue groups—all overflowing with adoptable pets—and that’s when I got a crash course on the overextended rescue situation in NYC. These groups go to animal control to take the animals from death row. Bringing them more from the street was just adding to the overflow.

I thought it would be amazing to help the rescue groups by creating an un-depressing space where the public could meet the cats, a place where strays would be appreciated as the gorgeous creatures they are and not wretches in a cage-lined facility! For animal lovers, it’s very depressing to encounter the broken system that treats strays as throwaways. I thought the cat area itself was a great installation and this project would use the art context to actually facilitate adoption—as well as being an aesthetic, meditative space.

Around that time, at MoMA PS1, I went to James Turrell’s Meeting, a bench-lined room whose ceiling opens up to the sky. Nothing but presence—like the cat area. “This piece could only be improved by cats,” I said to myself. My original idea for the show was for it to be like Meeting—a place for pussies to meet the public—with stuff for the cats to use, because they like to climb, to scratch. No tableaux or tchotchkes—just interactive pieces where cats and people would hang out. In the show’s current form at White Columns, the cats do their “purrformance piece” in a kitty playground set within a salon-style kitty kunsthalle of cat-inspired—and sometimes cat-assisted—art and objets. Work by more than fifty artists and a zine with lots of personal pieces express our mysterious and intimate bond with cats through an array of sensibilities: the pieces are moving, sad, beautiful, comic.

Back in 1999(!), the artists and designers I approached got the project instantly. But finding a space that would host rescue kitties—and the funding—was a challenge. This project integrates art and animal rescue, so it kind of fell between the cracks, grant-wise. A space whose name I won’t mention agreed in 2003 to do it but kept dropping the ball when it came to development. That was an arduous and disappointing saga—so the project took a catnap there for a few years. But it was always a dream project of mine—one that had nearly happened. People would say, “What about that cat project?” Rather mortifying.

To my relief and gratitude, White Columns, the purrfect partner, stepped up and ended this purgatory. This is the right time for the project. There’s so much relational art—it was there in the ’90s, too, and part of my mental framework for the project. And the Internet Cat Video Film Fest at the Walker Art Center last summer was a big hit. I’ve always been passionate about animal rescue, and this was one way I thought I could use my “skills” to help more cats than I could on a one-by-one basis. Plus there’s something magical about hanging out with cats anywhere. They’re aesthetic and fun, so an art space is a perfect fit.

The point of this show is to use art as a lever to transvalue how we see and treat strays. I propose this as a prototype to show that this kind of thing is possible, hopefully on a sustainable basis at some point. The centerpiece is the cat habitat/kitty playground: an enclosure with a tubular cat tree designed by architects Freecell (John Hartmann and Lauren Crahan) and Gia Wolff. It will swerve around seven other interactive sculptures for the cats to use, and seating so people can visit. Michelle Handelman is doing on-site video documentation and installing a multichannel video of the cats in the space for when they are not “in residence.” Social Tees Animal Rescue, a partner for the project, is providing our ten cats-in-residence: Meowrina Abramovic, Bruce Meowman, Jeff Maine Coons, Claws Oldenburg, Alex Katz, and Frida Kahlico, among others. The purr-formers will have artist bios in the zine we are producing for the show, and most of all, we hope they’ll all gain purrmanent homes during the two two-day adoption events that open and close the show.

— As told to Lauren O’Neill-Butler

Monica Ross


2007 promotional image for Monica Ross, Anniversary—an act of memory, 2008-13. Photo: Bernard G. Mills.

The works of British artist Monica Ross employ drawing, performance, video, and text to address questions of memory and history. Ross’s project Anniversary—an act of memory celebrates its culminating fifth year this year, with the concluding section taking place at the twenty-third session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on June 10–14, 2013. At the work’s completion, nearly a thousand individuals will have spoken the two thousand words of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights in sixty public recitations in over fifty languages. The artist speaks here about how this work began.

I DEVELOPED ANNIVERSARY—AN ACT OF MEMORY in 2005, in response to the British police’s shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazillian electrician living in London. Two weeks after the July 2005 terrorist attacks, police began surveillance on de Menezes’s apartment building and saw him for the first time when he was leaving for work one morning. They identified him as a terrorist suspect on the spot due to his supposedly “foreign” appearance. They followed him into the London Underground, where a team of armed police pushed him to the ground and shot him repeatedly in the head. The officers were following a covert shoot-to-kill procedure that’s still active in UK policing, although it has no democratic sanction. It was a terrifying demonstration of the power of law enforcement to overstep its responsibility and kill an innocent man.

In effect, the officers had failed to exercise presence of mind; they were responding to instructions via earpieces, following some distant voice of authority telling them to attack and shoot. I recalled Hannah Arendt’s comments about evil rising from thoughtlessness, and I wondered if I would have had the courage and temporal focus to disobey. I asked myself how a society might nurture these qualities in its citizens. I speculated that having the bravery to resist injustice might be connected to a strong sense of communal commitment to a clearly articulated ethical code.

This idea took me to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a secular statement with a rarely quoted preamble, which urges “every individual and organ of society” to strive “by teaching and education” to promote awareness of and respect for the declaration’s rights and freedoms. This ignited my interest; in addition to being an artist, I’ve also been a teacher for a long time, yet I had never paid any attention to this historical document.

The recitation format of the final work developed in three stages. First I learned the entire declaration by heart. Then I worked on its spoken delivery. The third step was to cross the significant divide between my personal recitation and a public one; the challenge of dealing with pressure in an exposed context is symbolically very important in this project. The first few solo recitations in 2005 took place in various settings, including the Beaconsfield gallery in London, the National Review of Live Art, and the foyer of the British Library. This last recitation marked the sixtieth anniversary of the document and began the series of sixty solo, collective, and multilingual recitations that will conclude in Geneva.

In the mid-2000s, I saw these “acts of memory” as a modest strategy, but to my surprise, individuals and groups all over the UK took up the process. I think this is a sign of the times. People today seem more aware of history, which, as Walter Benjamin observed, is never safe from the victors. See, for example, the widespread anger sparked by Margaret Thatcher’s funeral earlier this year. That event was emblematic of the political right’s bid to maintain its own historical narratives through performative gestures, and it infuriated people. I’m delighted by the reception Anniversary—an act of memory has received. Crucially, though, expression isn’t the same as action. It isn’t enough to simply reiterate the declaration. One has to commit to the actualized defense of human rights. The act of recollection forms just a part of that urgent process.

— As told to Rachel Withers

Tony Feher


Tony Feher, Come Out and Play Stephen Jay (detail), 2013, painter’s tape, 8 x 8’. Installation view, deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum.

Artist Tony Feher is the subject of a twenty-five-year retrospective that originated at the Blaffer Art Museum in Houston and is on view at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts, until September 15. Feher, known for redeeming everyday objects and consumer goods through careful juxtaposition and placement, speaks about the new works he made for the deCordova and about surveying his art career.

AS SOON AS I DROVE into the parking lot at the deCordova, I knew I wanted to create a work for the building’s grand staircase. The building is nestled into a hill, and you enter at the bottom. A window wall goes up the side of the staircase; at its base, the windows are probably forty feet tall. Horizontal mullions define the panes of glass, and they seem to want to accept, very readily, two-liter bottles filled with dyed water—a mechanism I have used a lot. In total, nearly three hundred bottles filled with water tinted by McCormick food dye—red, yellow, blue, green—make a linear progression across the diagonal staircase. The light pouring through those spots of color looks like medieval stained glass from France. They’re just glowing.

I made two other pieces for the deCordova. One is at the end of a twenty- or thirty-foot-long hall, on a glass pane that’s approximately eight feet square. I blotted out the view onto the park completely with bits of blue painter’s tape. From a distance, it’s an ethereal, sapphire pattern lit from behind. It keeps you inside the space of the exhibition. If you look outside other windows you’ll see a forty-foot-tall fluorescent magenta pole I specified. At all times of day, it glows. It looks like it has been plugged in. Now everything is as green as possible. But in the fall, when the leaves go orange and red, it will play off of those colors. In the depths of winter, with skeletal tree limbs, the contrast will be quite dramatic. The deCordova has decided to leave it on view for two years.

The survey has helped me to realize how fortunate I am in terms of my health—that I’m still alive, still fat and sassy. A lot of the work of my coming-of-age period, in the late 1980s and early ’90s, was made in the social climate of HIV/AIDS. So many people were confronting their mortality thirty or forty years sooner than you normally do. The intimacy, the fragility—the almost pathetic quality—of some of my early work has given way, over the years that I’ve survived, to works with more substantial qualities. That might have something to do with the fact that I no longer feel like I might die tomorrow. In 1989, when I found out I was positive, I said to myself, “Well, you’re gonna be dead in ten years, so you better get busy. This is not a time to mope around and feel sorry for yourself.” Now I’m lucky to be in a situation where sometimes I can even forget about it. I take my medication and everything’s good. This show reminded me of what was going on at the time, and how far I’ve come—and we’ve come. I thought it would be easy to look back over my shoulder, but all it has done is remind me that the future is tomorrow, and there’s much more work to be done.

— As told to Brian Sholis

View of “Polar Eclipse,” 2013. Photo: Tom Powel.

The artist representing the inaugural Bahamas pavilion at the Fifty-Fifth Venice Biennale is Bahamian Tavares Strachan, who has had solo shows at the MIT List Visual Arts Center as well as at the Brooklyn Museum, where in 2009 he exhibited The Distance Between What We Have and What We Want (Arctic Ice Project), 2004–2008, a block of ice Strachan brought back from an expedition to the North Pole. Displacement is a theme that runs through his work, whether in the context of geographical distance and scientific measurement or in the context of cultural dislocation and loss. Here, he talks about his forays into research settings and how those experiences relate to his work for the Bahamas pavilion.

COSMONAUT TRAINING is a simulation of the physical and psychological conditions of space. You’re turned, spun around, submerged. At MIT, I spent some time in the microfabrication lab and optics lab, in their zero-gravity simulations, and working with infrared video. We also hung out with an amazing scientist, Deva Newman, who is designing a new space suit for NASA. This was all part of my investigation of orthostatic tolerance—the ability of the human body to withstand hypotension during gravitational stress.

Extreme physical and cultural discomfort, and the achievement of a goal in a hostile environment: In some sense my work at the Bahamas pavilion is an attempt to negotiate these ideas within an artmaking practice. You could say there’s a recurring theme of loss and invisibility in my work. With Robert Peary and Matthew Alexander Henson—the two explorers who are remembered for reaching the North Pole—they knew one another and collaborated on expeditions for over thirty years. But after making it to the pole, they were never as close again. Essentially, they stopped speaking to each other. Peary went on to win medals, while Henson went unrecognized and worked as a federal clerk for decades after their expedition. Success tends to change people’s relationships. I’m also reminded of that quote “There’s no food on the table, but whitey’s on the moon”. . . ? Or something like that.

On my last Arctic expedition, I found out that ayaya—an Inuit folk tradition—was starting to fade away, which I found discomforting but also interesting. Teaching it to children was the best way to ensure that it would continue to live in some way. We had children from Nassau, the Bahamas, learn an Inupiaq song that is virtually untranslatable to other languages. Its meaning relies heavily on contextual clues—speakers move and enunciate in a certain way, and gesture has an equal value to words. The project involved a big leap for the kids from Nassau—but kids are ready to take on complexity in a way that adults tend to resist.

I actually think the discourse on nations and nationalism is not that interesting. A real richness has evolved out of the dichotomy between this project and the national organization of the Venice Biennale. I didn’t come in thinking my project would relate to the context of Venice, but the work of bringing forty kids here has been an aesthetic encounter and a social experience that feels very fruitful.

— As told to Dawn Chan

Julie Mehretu, Invisible Line (collective), 2010-11, ink and acrylic on canvas, 11’ 2/5” x 24’ 9/10”.

For her first exhibition in a New York gallery in over a decade, Julie Mehretu has strategically installed her new paintings to mimic the curatorial approach taken in her current show at White Cube in London, which terminates in the expansive vista of Invisible Line, 2013. This will in effect create a dialogue between the two spaces, pitting in situ experience against a broader, globalized consciousness. “Liminal Squared” is on view at Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, from May 11 to June 22 and at White Cube, London, from May 1 to July 7, 2013.

I’VE BEEN RECENTLY thinking a lot about algorithms as a medium (Amy Sillman got me on it). I work with a research assistant who is extremely meticulous in going through every image she can find of particular buildings in different public squares. My latest paintings come out of these images, which are mostly found on the Internet. They have a very different type of information because they’re not just from the news—the source of a lot of earlier work. We instead have to cull through this vast system to find them, personal photos of soldiers that come from Flickr or other such places, often posted directly from the center of the military presence.

Swarming elements coalesce and dissipate in the paintings that include these appropriated spaces, creating a shift in the image as it participates in the evolution of this other form—though it’s not even considered a “form”: I won’t call it that. I won’t give it a body. The architectural renderings rely on a certain wire-framed language. Maybe each work is actually a location in and of itself, a place to ponder experiential pressures.

I used to work with marks that were very small and were much more like little glyphs or characters; they would plot and move and journey through the canvas in very social ways. I think now my marks have become more notational and gestural—smudges that suggest or even register a trace of action, like the imprint of the towel I was using, my fingers, or my palm. It’s as if these marks now function from a place of retreat in order to reconstitute themselves. And that might be how one rebuilds what was once so seemingly whole.

There are moments when one can see what looks like a typical colonnade, though it may belong to a stadium in Kabul. As these different architectures become immersed in the mark, they create together what I refer to as a third place, a new possibility. The desire of trying to make sense of it plays with the idea of the algorithm, a tool predominantly utilized in science to predict a particular kind of ending.

But there are always breaks in predictability, always a return. The Atlantic historically separated and rejoined populations in a constant crossing—the slave trade, the evolution of the colonies, cultural, economic, and psychological imports. I’m interested in that liminal condition because of the present social moment that faces another threshold of being in between. In Cairo, the revolution was co-opted in some ways; in Syria, there is still a horrific war; in Libya, an incredible intervention has left complete disorder. Every revolution turns out differently and some end without a resolution, as with the dissolution and shift of Occupy Wall Street. The revolution in Ethiopia in 1974 shifted my life as a young child, relocating my family to an area previously unfamiliar to us—East Lansing, Michigan. It was a huge break that has forever left an imprint on me.

Within the revolutionary impulse there typically exists an idealism and a desire for the impossible. These core aspects are processed in my studio through a highly pressurized distillation system with loud music and beats. The hand marks, flings, percussive chops, and morphs build something entirely different: an unknown.

— As told to Frank Expósito