The revolving and evolving group of young men who go by the moniker Bruce High Quality Foundation espouses the credo, “Professional Challenges. Amateur Solutions.” The group’s own forays into that most impractical of professions—the contemporary artist—have taken a highly un-amateur turn. BHQF has consistently positioned itself as a hybrid, showing work as a collective while directing the grassroots educational program BHQFU whose clarion call, “That’s where U come in,” resounds with put-on juvenilia. The line outside last night’s Brucennial opening suggests both the nameless hoards of energized youth approaching Woodstock, and the Topshop opening last year, just a few blocks due East.
INSTALLATION VIEW. PHOTO BY CATHERINE KRON
Timed to the group’s participation in the Whitney Biennial, BHQF presents Brucennial in collaboration with the very professional young curator (and son of Julian) Vito Schnabel. The sprawling, jam-packed group show occupies a giant Soho space lent by collector Aby Rosen. The show takes as its theme “Miseducation,” which is certainly more direct than the Whitney’s program, and a nod to the deskilled mode of salon-style presentation demonstrated here.
Given its radical scale and ambition, the inclusion of large scale (albeit unprotected, and acessible-feeling) works by Julian Schnabel, George Condo, and Rita Ackermann and many others, the Brucennial should be considered a serious curatorial gesture. While some of the pieces here found their way onto the walls as a result of the artists’ and curators’ privileged connections (the Schnabel, the unsurprising inclusion of Francesco Clemente, Ray Smith, and Donald Baechler) the works by younger artists evince a pronounced DIY ethos that went critcized in the New Museum’s inaugural Unmonumental show, and unremarked in countless other shows. Notably absent are the utopian (or distopian) polished surfaces of Minimalism, or the Banks Violette. The prevailing aesthetic is Maximalism, or junkshop, as the works compete for visibility.
Visibility, but not authorship, as the works are labeled in pencil scrawled on the wall or left anonymous (although it was reasonably easy to find someone at the opening willing to point out which piece was theirs.) Some of the best works in the show—an Yves Klein-like blue cascade of oil on canvas, a freestanding painted cone of canvas, a giant blue knotted rope—were left without attribution. The latter was executed by artist Orly Genger, and left without attribution not tomake a point, but because she didn’t have materials for her own label.
The stretched skin on which Schnabel’s Milton is scrawled bears direct reference to earlier relics by Joseph Beuys, and captured the show’s stated and unstated concerns. “Explaining Pictures to a Dead Bull,” BHQF’s statement of intent and allusion to Beuys’ seminal performance “How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare,” references Schnabel’s career trajectory, its rise in the late 1970s and 1980s, and momentary floundering in the 1990s. “Nonetheless,” the manifesto goes, “booms and collapses in the art market from the late nineties to today have not brought about any change in attitude.” Beuys is invoked in the text, as “the best example of how indistinguishable arts education and the art market can be.”
But it’s not so simple and harmonious as all that: The statement lacks the obligatory critique of Beuys’ fascistic pedagogical techniques, the critical theorists’ and artists’ Oedipal treatment of their teacher. Schnabel’s painting again looms large, as it was rumored the artist was wanted Milton to occupy the gallery’s window. His request was not granted, but Milton did occupy a conspicuously central position in the back wall. If nothing else, the Oedipal strains suggested by the Schnabels, and the BHQF, are endlessly intriguing.
More than anything, the Bruces understand the DIY art event as a space for generating synergy—and tolerating the lame trappings of mainstream culture. But generating an across-the-board excitement not seen since the closing night of Guild & Greyshkul, BHQF threw a really great party, the nature of which never changes.
BRUCENNIAL IS ON VIEW THROUGH APRIL 12, LOCATED AT 350 WEST BROADWAY, NEW YORK.