If one more person tries to talk to me about Bravo’s new reality show Gallery Girls I’m going to punch them straight in the face. It’s no secret that the art world is insular and that much of it revolves around money. Nevertheless, I am sick of the lavish media attention directed at the top 1% of the art world. I get that hot chicks in fancy dresses and $100 million auction results are probably good info-tainment, but come on bro. Admittedly that kind of press is inevitable and shouldn’t bother me. Still, I am always heartened when the other side of the coin is celebrated. Curated by Scott Hug, B-Out at Andrew Edlin Gallery weaves together over 100 artists into an imaginative installation that illustrates a partial and subjective history of what it means to create outside the norm.
Holland Cotter of The New York Times has praised the exhibition for its inclusion of a number of important, lesser known figures. Cotter points to Kathe Burkhart’s portrait of Elizabeth Taylor and to Chris Bogia’s tribute to Nina Simone. The critic also makes reference to Emily Dickenson and Francis of Assisi in an assemblage by Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt. If this overt imagery sets the tone for an offbeat sort of rebellion, then equally important is the work of artists like David Wojnarowicz, May Wilson and Ray Johnson, all of whom are symbols of the artist as non-conformist.
The fact that Scott Hug is an artist who draws from this rich history saves the exhibition from being boring or dry. Rather than organizing or historicizing the work, Hug creates an installation that is overwhelming, undisciplined and exuberant. The experience feels something like walking into a museum that has been re-curated by the genius monkeys from Planet of the Apes. The result is a highly caffeinated contemporary mash-up of the floor-to-ceiling salon-style display methods so popular in the 19th century and before. Though there is a funhouse quality to the presentation, it would be flippant to treat the installation as anything but serious.
The great strength of this exhibition is its aggressive inclusiveness and refusal to categorize. The most poignant conclusions are those that the curator seems unwilling to make directly. By including multiple generations of artists, across aesthetic and theoretical boundaries, Hug constructs a loose history of misbehavior that includes a number of strategies and opportunities.
In his inclusiveness Hug has unified a group of artists against the prevailing system, but that is where the similarities stop. What we see sprayed across the walls is homage to resistance and independence, to being silly, angry and poignant. The result is as much about having the courage to turn your back on Goliath and do your own thing as it is about hitting him in the face with a stone.
Eve Folwer’s silkscreen posters, which read with messages like “This Is It With It As It Is” and “The Difference Is Spreading,” bedeck the plate glass windows at the front of the gallery. Her poetic diffidence sets a tone that has more to do with the latter. Kathe Burkhart and K8 Hardy use the formal to imbue their work with a sharp socio-political message. Jack Pierson’s hand-scrawled note renders an imaginary advertisement for clinical trials in exuberant, childlike handwriting. Joshua Abelow’s painting reads “Art Is So Gay.” Ray Johnson, Bern Porter and May Wilson provide collage work that is far less direct but equally confrontational and political in substance.
Hug and Michael Magnan have collaborated on a room-wide installation of photo collage that overlays USA Today photographs that portray pop culture personalities in mug-shot fashion. With subtitles that vary from irreverent to critical, the room is a contemporary rendition that smells pleasantly of The Pictures Generation, like Barbara Kruger.
In the following room, Maya Hayuk weaves a cocoon of interlacing rainbow light over every surface. Her ribbons of intergalactic color mash and smash across space. This is an intermediate universe, a manmade universe of projected pigment and vibration. The feel is psychedelic by way of the folk textile tradition and her own crusty history as a seriously rad Brooklyn artist.
Hug and Magnan poke at the beast in relentless fashion. Their approach gains strength from the perceived flaws of popular culture. Hayuk is the monk to their cultural pundit. Her work is oppositional in its independence, its celebration of traditional methods of craft, insistence in the handmade and celebration of DIY and independent culture.
Most of the artists in this exhibition could probably be generalized into one of these two camps. Effective cultural resistance is born as much from providing alternatives to the dominant force as it is from engaging with it. It is the cross-pollination of these two forces that makes this exhibition different. By placing Hug and Hayuk next to each other, by combining a massive David Wojnarowicz painting next to a minimal construction by Tova Carlin, we see the old distinctions about form, content and concept fade into the background. We realize that the conceptual is best supported by the formal and vice versa. This might seem like common sense, and it probably should be. It is in an exhibition like this that the old divisions between the conceptual artist and the painter seem contrived. It is the heart of the beast that really matters.
While the 100-some artists in this show would probably not all get along, it is clear that their creations do. The multitude of disparate, clamoring voices that crowd the walls of B-Out crescendo into one defiant, if somewhat unintelligible roar. Though we might not decipher the message in full, we are warmed by its human tone and inspired by its strength.
B-Out at Andrew Edlin Gallery (134 Tenth Avenue, Chelsea, Manhattan) is curated by Scott Hug and continues until August 18.