A general view of the Brucennial (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Since it’s founding in 2001, The Bruce High Quality Foundation has been using performance and pranks to critique the art world. The collective prides itself on “developing amateur solutions to professional challenges.” I’ve admired their irony, even envied their sense of anarchy.

The crowd outside the Brucennial opening.

In 2010 BHQF brought us the Brucennial. Organized by the then 23-year-old Vito Schnabel, the son of the artist Julian Schnabel. The show opened the same night as the reputable Whitney’s uptown Biennial, and I was one in the crowd that packed the space on West Broadway (which was provided to the artists courtesy of art collector Aby Rosen). I was also one of the many who after a few beers, and joining in on the ‘fuck you,’ tore up my ticket to the Whitney and spent the cab money I we saved on pizza at Two Boots.

According to the news release for the 2010 show, “420 artists from 911 countries” were shown and it added that the artist were “working in 666 disciplines to reclaim education as part of the artists’ ongoing practice beyond the principals of any one institution or experience.”

Tonight the Brucennial returned for its second edition. I hustled into the show at 5pm to avoid the lines (which went around the block in 2010). I was met with the expected paintings stacked floor to ceiling, sculpture loading up floor, Tina Turner playing on the speaker (I actually didn’t expect that!) and beer in bins.

As anticipated, it’s an enormous show. The big names like George Condo, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Cindy Sherman,and Richard Price stand out. They’re squeezed between the hundreds of no-name (there isn’t a label in sight) under-employed, under-recognized artists, gallery interns and Sotheby’s art handlers. It’s a massive show. An incredible undertaking. Absolute in its inclusiveness. It about the passion. The real. Hunting for quality just seems so uncouth among a crowd where everyone was drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon. The Brucennial defends nothing.

When asked in a recent interview how the show first came about, BHQF said, “It’s essentially an elaborate word of mouth process. When we first started putting the show on, we asked our friends. And then they asked their friends. And now six years later, we have a lot of friends.” Without friends we are nothing. Community is everything. The Whitney has its collectors. The New Museum has its Ungovernables. We have our Bruces.

The writing is on the wall … or wait, they’re still doing that.

BHQF wins. They know they can out arm-wrestle any of us. They began with a goal “to resurrect art history from the bowels of despair, and to impregnate the institutions of art with the joy of man’s desiring.” Now after almost a decade of work, they are the history. Their challenge now is going to be how they can avoid becoming the establishment. In 2010 there wasn’t a price list to be found.

Even Damien Hirst made an appearance. (click to enlarge)

But I don’t think the BHQF cares (which is their strength), and I imagine that the hundreds of artist lining up outside on Bleecker Street don’t care either.

The Bruces are advertising a musical to accompany this year’s show, titled “Animal Farm,” which appears to be a kind of satirical reflection on their own experimental free art school:

“In 2012, The Bruce High Quality Foundation University (BHQFU) is in crisis. Faced with overwhelming debts, the Chicken Trustees of the school may be forced to compromise its 150 year legacy and do the unthinkable: charge tuition. Luckily, the graduating Piggy Artists of the class of 2012 have something else in mind.”

Schnabel told the New York Times, “the artists are ones that the Bruce High Quality Foundation think are important.” It’s nice to see that some things never change. If you can’t beat ’em join BHQF.

Brucennialcontinues through April 1 at 159 Bleecker Street (159 Bleecker Street, Greenwich Village, Manhattan) and will be open Wednesday to Sunday (noon-6pm).

The Bruce High Quality Foundation will present the musical “Animal Farm: An Arts Educational Musical Fable,” March 3rd, 2pm & 7PM / March 4, 2pm & 7pm at 159 Bleecker Street. To RSVP, email, rsvp[at] vitoschnabel [dot] com.

Jason Andrew is an independent scholar, curator, and producer. Specializing in the field of Postwar American Art, Mr. Andrew is currently the manager and curator of the estate of Abstract Expressionist...

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