Monday, March 14, 2011

Rirkrit Tiravanija, Brendan Fowler, the Calder Foundation, Black Dice

Installation views of Rirkrit Tiravanija, FEAR EATS THE SOUL, at Gavin Brown's enterprise, New York, March 5, 2011. Photos: 16 Miles [more]

The smell of leek soup wafted through the galleries. The crowd waited. What would be served?

"Whatever this is, it isn't relational aesthetics," a friend said to me in a giddy tone at the opening of Rirkrit Tiravanija's new show at Gavin Brown's enterprise on March 5. She was sipping warm soup — a hearty chicken base blessed with a trove of butter-soft leeks — from one hand and holding an ice-cold bottle of Rolling Rock in the other. Many of the few hundred other people gathered inside the cavernous gallery were doing the same, and the luckiest ones, who had arrived early, were finishing off hearty sandwiches, thick baguette slices filled with pulled pork and sweet pickles.

Cock-a-leekie soup cooking on the enterprise stove, sweet pickles at the ready. Tiravanija's weekly soup recipes are available at

It has been more than two decades since Tiravanija first served food for free in an art gallery (at the Paula Allen Gallery in New York, which also offered Rolling Rock, because the gallerist happened to be able to get a discount on it) and roughly 15 years since French curator Nicolas Bourriaud coined the term relational aesthetics to categorize art practices like Tiravanija's. As my friend's comment indicated, Bourriaud's theory has come to seem quaint and outmoded since then. Artworks encompassed by — or, in the worst cases, designed to illustrate — the theory have proved boring, as Joe Scanlan has argued, and their supposed political efficacy has been disputed by art historian Claire Bishop in her 2004 essay "Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics."

Nevertheless, there was an unmistakable thrill in the air on opening night. Tiravanija, sporting his trademark rose–colored glasses, wandered back and forth between the gallery and the kitchen, supervising the production of the soup, which was addictive and delicious. Each time he changed locations, he had to wander back out onto the street, since the doors from the kitchen to the gallery (and from the front reception area to the gallery) are walled off with thick cinder blocks. The exhibition space's doors and windows have been removed, leaving it completely open to the street. On the gallery walls, a message has been spray–painted in black: "FEAR EATS THE SOUL."

Meat, pickles, baguettes: the feast begins.

The transformed space looks like an abandoned warehouse, not so different from those that once existed along the Hudson River just a few years away, which Gordon Matta-Clark documented and detourned in the 1970s. Tiravanija has been more welcoming in past exhibitions, offering continuous access to a model of his East Village apartment at a 1999 exhibition at the enterprise (people are rumored to have had group sex there, Jerry Saltz reported later) and presenting a reconstruction of his home in Thailand for a 2009 show in Madrid. This time he has built a life-size replica of Brown's former gallery space on Broome Street and a fully operational T-shirt shop, in which employees screen shirts on-demand. The shirts are available in three sizes, printed with one of 24 different slogans (e.g. "NOBODY KNOWS I AM A LESBIAN" or "NO NO AMERICA"), for $20.

Tiravanija's T-shirt factory: 24 slogans available at $20 a pop

The shared "microtopian" communities that Bourriaud believed were created in Tiravanija's works, which Bishop characterizes in her essay as "feel-good" constructions, are perversely and joyfully parodied in "FEAR EATS THE SOUL." The only two enclosed, hospitable spaces, after all, are a model of a commercial art gallery and what amounts to a souvenir shop. The gallery may be open to the public 24 hours a day, but the only places you will want to spend time are where something is available for consumption. (The T-shirt shop and soup kitchen are open Thursday through Saturday, 10 am to 6 pm, through April 16.) There are other uncomfortable truths embedded in Tiravanija's practice, like the fact that the hearty bowl of soup arrives only due to the munificence of an established art dealer, and that those who actually need a bowl of soup will almost certainly not happen upon, or even hear about the exhibition, as Bishop has emphasized.

Tiravanija is surely aware of these issues, which give lend his works a fragile sense of existence dashed with melancholy, a feeling that is underscored by the sheer transience of the event: the reality that, while we can return to our favorite painting at the Met again and again for hours at a time, the few minutes shared with friends over a bowl of soup will happen only once, and then exist only as a memory. Tiravanija has organized a Trojan horse of an exhibition, an ostensibly celebratory meal that morphs into something darker, or at least sadder, once he gets you thinking.

Outside the plywood T-shirt studio and art gallery, people gazed in at the chrome

The full neon sign, not legible here, reads "NOSOUP." Only the last four letters were illuminated once the soup started flowing.

Brendan Fowler in the Spare Room at West Street Gallery

A few blocks away, Brendan Fowler unveiled new works from his already-classic frame-through-frame series in West Street Gallery's Spare Room. Instead of his typical subjects — concert posters and photographs — he's hung purple monochromes, and they are the best of the bunch.

Dan Friel performing at the Calder Foundation's "Maybe I should have called it 'My Life in Nineteen Minutes,'" 74 Pine Street, New York, March 5, 2011. [more]

Later that evening, at 74 Pine Street, some visitors had the chance to see Courtney Love wandering around another abandoned warehouse space (she dashed past me as I entered), this one commandeered by the Calder Foundation for a 12-hour exhibition conceived by Victoria Brooks that was titled "Maybe I should have called it 'My Life in Nineteen Minutes,'" which featured a formidable lineup of performances and films, including works by Mika Tajima, Hans Richter, Yves Klein, Dara Birnbaum, and Calder. There were art objects, too, like a luscious Holton Rower floor piece, below — thin waves of paint piling up into a pitch-perfect mash-up of Jim Lambie and Lynda Benglis. Parts & Labor member Dan Friel was playing a solo set when I arrived, carefully leading a gigantic noise-orchestra — actually a large bank of controls perched on his lap — through a series of static–laced pop instrumentals.

Holton Rower, Pour 03052011, 2011, at the Calder Foundation's "Maybe I should have called it 'My Life in Nineteen Minutes,'" 74 Pine Street, New York, March 5, 2011. [more]

Black Dice performing as part of their residency at Secret Project Robot, Brooklyn, New York, morning of March 6, 2011.

Across the East River, at the performance space/gallery/residence Secret Project Robot in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Black Dice concluded their week-long miniature residency with a barn-burner of a set that was even louder than Friel's cacophonous display had been an hour earlier. In 2002, curator Bob Nickas described the group as "the New York art world's favorite band at the moment." (Who holds that title now? Kalup Linzy and James Franco? Patti Smith?) The fickle crowd may have moved on to other bands in the past nine years, but the group has lost none of its brio, playing new, vaguely funky noise songs from behind their tables of equipment for a solid hour, as gorgeous abstract projections by Danny Perez spilled over them.


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