Galleries

Coming to Grips with Social Art: Eight Extraordinary Greens

Eight Extraordinary Greens (all photos courtesy of Mixed Greens Gallery)

If you have walked around the streets lately you will notice something odd. New Yorkers are smiling. Yep, it’s that time of year again, the days are lengthening and the sun seems determined to start shining. This time of year reminds us that we live not only in a world of our own construction but that somewhere out beyond the sidewalks and computer screens lurks NATURE. This is the time of year to daydream of lakeside cabins and fresh vegetable patches. For those of us who aren’t urban gardeners, or who haven’t invested in a CSA it can be tricky. Jenna Spevack’s current exhibition at Mixed Greens seems take a shot at this popular preoccupation.

Her exhibition Eight Extraordinary Greens is part public service announcement, part experiment in farming and part installation. That artist has installed a number of domestic household objects re-fitted with lights and trays of micro greens. These sculptural “microfarms” pay homage to the artist’s first experiment with urban-in house gardening in her own apartment. A tray of greens is exposed to lighting tubes within the confines of a vintage leather suitcase. Past a greenhouse-bookshelf and desk lie the facsimile  of a vintage kitchen and living room. The prop-artworks are bathed in the glow of bulbs reflected in tiny patches of green. This image is arresting in that it is unexpected.

Eight Extraordinary Greens

Viewers are invited — as if they are visitors to a hypothetical home — to wander around and to purchase the greens for a self imposed price. You are then invited to either take the greens home or to donate them for the artist to deliver to a food pantry. Proceeds from the sale are recorded on a print/receipt and hung on the wall to record the collective value of the greens harvested during the exhibition. Proceeds from the sale of these art-greens will be donated to urban agricultural projects “Bushwick City Farms” Bed Stuy Campaign Against Hunger’ or Added Value.”

Full disclosure, my visit to this exhibition taught me about three great food based not-for-profits within two miles of where I live. There is indeed an educational value to this exhibition. On another level though, I don’t think I learned anything significant about why I should grow my own food, how to grow my own food, or even where to buy affordable, sustainably farmed, organic goods. The installation of under the couch greens seems a little more like a novelty than any sort of practical suggestion.

Eight Extraordinary Greens

What are the larger implications of a project like this? I think if anything it serves as an honest departure point for conservation. I hope that visitors are tempted by the delicious greens and intrigued by the installation. Sure, the receipts on the wall tell us about what the gallery goer might pay full a bundle of micro greens, but does that really give us a larger snapshot of the value our society places on food? I honestly doubt it but I think that’s ok. Art doesn’t have to take the place of education, volunteering or other types of civic involvement it need only inspire.

More and more we see that artists seek to engage the social sector. I’m a long standing fan of activist art collectives and street artists that actively push their message and information out on to the streets and into the mailboxes of the uninformed. The point has always seemed to me, to inspire and to invite wonder. While the social good is certainly important, and I find it difficult to take issue with something that is well intended and that I support, the installation felt as if it lacked something. The focus, unfortunately, seemed on the idea of the project rather than it’s presentation. I would hold that even a conceptual artist like Joseph Kosuth relies on the visual impact of art. His installations are effective I think in particular because they do pack a mean aesthetic punch. If you want to make me care, awesome, stop me on the street and I’ll listen to your pitch, I’ll probably even give you money. Unfortunately canvassing for social causes is not art and shouldn’t be confused as such. I only venture to say that, while the issues are important, don’t let them stifle the experience or the point you are trying to convey might get lost in the shuffle.

Eight Extraordinary Greens runs at Mixed Greens (531 west 26th Street, 1st floor, Chelsea, Manhattan) until June 2.

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