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On January 1, Bushwick gallery Fuchs Projects announced its plans to share a list of the “200 most influential people in Bushwick in 2016” — news met with fierce outcry from members of the local community troubled by what many regarded as an exclusive project ignorant of the effects of gentrification. Racist, sexist, and even homophobic comments filled the Facebook event page, causing gallery owner Rafael Fuchs to cancel the event, set to happen last Friday, at which attendees would receive a “first glimpse” of the list. According to Fuchs, however, the “Bushwick 200” was never intended to ever exist as a literal list but was, from its start, part of a broader, one-year-long art project to examine the neighborhood. It now remains on hold, with Fuchs refusing to surrender his original concept.
“This art project-in-progress was criticized and suppressed before being seen, and while it was in its preliminary stages of being created,” Fuchs told Hyperallergic. “The intention of the project was to create a positive impact in the neighborhood without discrimination and to challenge and educate ourselves and others, including myself … I have some kind of ideas, but at this stage, I don’t want to publicly state anything and all the parameters because it’s too early. The idea was, it’s the beginning of the year, let’s have a toast, let’s talk, let’s start creating. We’re going to execute it visually, with documents, with photographs of people, objects, documents, screen grabs.”
Originally titled “‘The Bushwick 200’ most influential people in 2016 project-First glimpse,” the January 8 event initially described that Fuchs Projects “has been compiling a comprehensive list of the 200 most influential people that are shaping the neighborhood of Bushwick to one of the most innovative places globally.” (Burning Bushwick has a screenshot of the now-gone description.) The list would include categories from “the Arts” to “Restaurants and Bars”; “Health” to “Real Estate.” That last category in particular led to an explosion of comments on the event page — now scrubbed clean as of last Tuesday — from those all too familiar with fighting displacement. Many took issue with the list’s claim to focus on those who have been “transforming the conventional,” and demanded to know Fuchs Projects’ methodology in deeming someone influential enough to make the cut.
“You cannot claim to to know who transformed the conventional when you were not here to see who transformed the conventional in this community,” artist and activist Anthony Rosado, who was born in Bushwick, told Hyperallergic. “To know who transformed the conventional is to know the history.
“What has he done for the community? What has his outreach been outside of social media?” Rosado said. “This is another sign of colonialism, a white man coming into our community and claiming the culture of my community.” Fuchs is Israeli and perceived as white.
Rather than a list of names, the big reveal at Friday’s event would have been of a sculpture — an object Fuchs described as “a metaphorical list” that would evolve as a collaborative work open to all. In an email to Hyperallergic, he sent a photograph of a close-up of the piece, which he said he had found in his hallway and planned to unveil from beneath a cloth in a ceremonial gesture. Fuchs refused to discuss the work further, saying people were supposed to see it at the event, but it appears to be a Classical Greek or Roman female figure covered in paint splatters; the photograph (pictured at the top of this post) features Fuchs’ own digital additions of words and isolated letters.
“The sculpture was supposed to be all covered with different colors as the project progresses towards the end of 2016, by many people, many hands, many minds, many voices, without any discrimination,” Fuchs said. “The different colors on the sculpture are representing different names and different fields of life … [the project] is beyond narrative, beyond articulation. It is inexplicable and transcendent.”
In addition to the sculpture, the event would have displayed several works on paper, including the image Fuchs shared. He intended its unveiling to trigger conversation about colors and their significance, only saying, “You tell me. That’s a discussion. What does this represent? People? Topics?”
To Rosado, however, the use of a Greco-Roman sculpture to visually represent and trace such a conversation about the neighborhood immediately signals negligence.
“If you’re going to talk high-end [Eurocentric] canon of art, then no, that’s not good for my community,” he said. “I think he is doing more harm than help. That is one question I wish all gentrifiers would ask themselves: Am I doing more harm than help in this community?”
Fuchs says he “truly believes” his project was an initial step to helping the community; that “Bushwick 200” would have brought about “positive change,” although he could not provide further information on what the specific changes he hoped would arise.
“I started seeing violence, people who are taking advantage of the situation here,” he told Hyperallergic. “Prices of rent are going high, you know? People are getting displaced. I thought that it’s a right time to start bringing all this things up and highlight Bushwick and show the good things that are happening here and see where we can go from that.
“Do we want to shine off innovation and stuff like this because of the worry that the value of the neighborhood is going to be higher? No, the other way around,” he continued. “With this kind of information we’re going to accumulate together, we can gain forces with all the people, the positive people that will do something positive for the neighborhood.”
Although he refused to go into specifics of what the one-year project will involve, Fuchs hinted at open discussions where he and, he anticipates, attendees, would bring up names of such “positive people” and cross-reference the suggested names to see if certain individuals crop up multiple times. He emphasized that such specific names would come up only in conversation then be preserved in a “metaphorical” list — through art.
“Not in public, not in the final ‘list,’” he said. “The final list could be the achievement of the collective project. It could be sculptures and evidences; images or screen grabs of what the list did in the media; its influence.”
If the list is metaphorical, I asked, then why even have a number at all? Is 200 arbitrary?
“That’s a good question,” Fuchs simply said. “That’s a conversation that I would have with people.” He added that he initially started with the number 100 before realizing the pool was too small — and that the point of announcing a list was to grab people’s attention.
“It’s gonna raise brows, and people are going to ask exactly all the questions you ask, and I’m going to say, let’s figure it out together,” he said.
I asked what aspects of a person would rouse Fuchs personally to bring up his or her name in these talks — what kind of criteria he has in mind that makes someone “influential.”
“I have no answers,” he said, although he mentioned that someone in a deli “making the most innovative sandwiches” could be an option. “I’m not the one who decides why and who and all this. I’m just an artist who starts a project and brings in some many other voices to it. So it’s evolving. I don’t have the answers to everything. People should bring the answers.”
To Rosado, the project is simply yet another product of an “artist-savior” who has a complex to save the community as well as a way for Fuchs Projects to promote itself. He noted that he is very much aware of the arts organizations actively involved in the Bushwick community and that he has never previously heard of Fuchs, who established the gallery in 2012. Fuchs had invited Rosado and other activists in a Facebook post to meet with him shortly after the event started stirring debate, and Rosado had expressed apprehension then. He still feels uncertain about speaking with Fuchs, who has not reached out since.
Whether or not Fuchs did originally intend for the list to be metaphorical and non-exclusive from the start, perhaps the whole fiasco stems from the very vagueness of his project. Although he voiced his desire to step back and gather people of all backgrounds to talk about the neighborhood, as the sole person spearheading such an endeavor, he still has to assume responsibility over its structure and share whatever ideas he has of shaping whatever conversations he hopes will occur in Fuchs Projects.
Rosado stressed that an art space should want to extend a hand to a community, but that it has to have an active, engaging role that considers the historical narrative of the neighborhood. Fuchs seems to be offering no more than a limp handshake of a project with idealistic visions, all presented under an ill-conceived title.
“If you’re going to be a gallery coming into this space, then provide as much as you are provided with,“Rosado said. “If you want to live here, you have to do so much fucking work because I am doing so much fucking work. Don’t move here and cause the erasure of my culture by your mere existence.”