A Curation of Curators: Young Curators, New Ideas at Meulensteen
Young Curators, New Ideas IV at Meulensteen Gallery
June 7 to August 24, 2012
511 West 22nd Street, between 10th and 11th avenues
New York City, 212.633.6999
Young Curators, New Ideas IV, the brainchild of Amani Olu, attempts to reinvigorate formats of display by presenting twelve individually curated micro-exhibits under the rubric of a single event. As a curation of curators, the multifarious show equates curatorial choice with artistic production – a challenge to traditional values that might prove to be a barometer of future ones. The first iteration of Young Curators, New Ideas was hastily executed in the summer of 2008 at the painfully small, now defunct Bond Gallery in Brooklyn. On that occasion, five curatorial groups (mostly friends of the now 31 year old Olu) were given ten square feet each in which to materialize their concerns in regard to contemporary art photography.
Fast-forward to its fourth installment, at Meulensteen Gallery and the project has ostensibly reached maturation. Olu initiated an international open-call that yielded over 100 proposals from which a dozen “emerging curators” have been given 150 square feet to experiment, fail, and triumph – varying degrees of which can be witnessed – as the work of 29 visual artists, various concerns, methods and materials are sprawled between two floors and 7,000 square feet.
The show starts with a cerebral buzz, in Susi Kenna and Tali Wertheimer’s aptly titled exhibition: The Artist is Not Present. The curatorial duo presents Problem, a language and object piece that relies on the viewer’s willingness to engage a solipsistic statement. Problem, produced by Teresa Henriques in 2011, consist of the word “problem” stenciled in black letters on a bare white wall. Several feet away binoculars are positioned in front of the wall creating the declarative statement “Look at the Problem”. Its placement and the conceptual structure of the show, transform the rhetorical statement into an intentional proposition that re-states and emphasizes the crux of Young Curators, New Ideas IV—a willingness to look at and offer an alternative and more inclusive model to the problem of the stagnate and insular Chelsea galley system.
At first glance this show seems as intricate, knotty and composed of discrete niches as the art condition at large. But the micro-exhibits have dialogues going on with one another. On the first floor, the work makes references to formal, painterly, and illusionistic concerns; despite an object like quality or photographic sensibility. This graphic aesthetic is seen in the modest sized paintings of Josh Reames and Pan Aterson; the former contained in a Robin Juan exhibit, the latter in an Ariella Wolens exhibit. Reames’s Refraction (pale green) 2012, in acrylic on canvas, contains Jonathan Lasker-like calligraphy within shifting geometric shapes. Aterson’s Untitled, 2011, in oil on paper, consists of coils and smears of white AbEx gestures over a black ground. Yet both works appear to be rendered by digital or photographic means. In curator Rachel Cook’s exhibit, another definition of painting is offered as photographic image and sculpture conflate in Jillian Conrad’s ingenious mixed media slide projections which function as both planar illusion and sculptural object. The conversation of planar image and actual object continues in the painting Judith, 2012, produced by artist Hugo McCloud, and displayed in Beautiful Refuse: Materiality, an exhibition from Larry Ossei-Mensah. The 8ft tall and 6ft wide Judith packs a punch, invoking the “push-pull” of Hans Hoffman, but McCloud’s squares disintegrate into something reminiscent of an Antoni Tàpies-like wall. The artist works on welded sheets of corroded copper where the weathered, metallic surfaces are obfuscated by crusty blotches of red, blue and green paint that slip into pools of dark tar. The most dramatic moments occur when layered physicality is juxtaposed with immateriality as pristine, untarnished copper passages break through layers of detritus to shimmer with hallucinogenic radiance. McCloud’s performative painting offers picturesque dilapidation – as a challenge to the veneer of a digitalized universe.
The exhibition continues on Meulensteen’s lower floor where the white cube transitions into a cavernous unfinished basement. All the Boys and Girls, curated by Jordana Zeldin, greatly benefits from this more domestically scaled atmosphere: low ceilings, semi-enclosed space a tattered blue couch and the infectious split screen, two-minute video Grow-Up (2010) by Judith Shimer. The aggregate is a knowingly nostalgic theatrical installation.
Down the hall, 23-year old curator Tiernan Morgan presents American Power, a well-executed micro-exhibition that relies less on the specialized skill of art literacy and more on a willingness to contemplate the mechanisms and socialized symbols that reflect our collective reality back to us, namely the mass media. It Felt like a Kiss, (2009) a 54-minute film by British filmmaker Adam Curtis, uses video montage, serendipitous pop-music and the dashing 1950s movie star Rock Hudson (who in 1985 became one of the first Hollywood AIDS mortalities) as de-facto narrator and signifier of the jarring difference between constructed identity and lived reality.
Extending Lionel Trilling’s famous remark on romanticism and modernism, William Deresiewicz has suggested that “if the property that grounded the self, in modernism was authenticity, in postmodernism it is visibility’. Young Curators, New Ideas confirms this diagnosis as curators conceive of themselves not only as impresarios but as artists, too, with Duchampian Conceptualism and the celebrification of contemporary art providing a ground for this encroachment. Use of the word ‘curator’ runs the risk of being seized by publicity-adept upstarts who fail to convincingly advance the arts but succeed instead at adding to the layers of self-serving bureaucracy that cover an already alienating Art World superstructure. And yet, what makes Young Curators, New Ideas IV successful is precisely its ideological organization, that is to say its idea of curatorship. Despite the allure of the limelight, the curators remain true to their historical function and deliver a composed experience that highlights diverse subsets and alternative modes of artistic production.