New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz preceded me in Jamshed Bharucha’s office by only a few minutes. He was there, as I was, for tonight’s opening of Step Down, the Free Cooper Union-organized companion to the school’s official year-end Show Up exhibition. Saltz’s appearance at the year-end show of one of Manhattan’s leading art schools is not a surprise, but his signing of Free Cooper Union’s statement of no confidence (as well as their guestbook) was just another blow to what by now can only be characterized as the Cooper Union PR piñata.
A sophomore, who asked to remain anonymous, told me that Saltz also “said something funny about the Cooper situation that related to being an art critic.” That the art critic delivered comments that weren’t terribly memorable belies a larger truth: the exhibition Free Cooper Union put together, in only a week’s time, is probably one of the most significant and symbolic shows of the year.
After the administration unceremoniously denied them participation in Cooper’s tri-partite culminating show, Free Cooper Union put out a call for works last week. The resulting exhibition features the work of students, faculty, and alumni, including written and visual work by Walid Raad, Sharon Hayes, Robert Bordo, Dennis Adams, Pam Lins, and others. Though the lower six floors of the Foundation were awash with visitors, a special energy hummed on the dimly-lit seventh floor, where the black-painted walls and red lighting had the effect of offsetting the electrifying charisma of the works on display, giving an intimate aura to an assembled corpus that ranges from playful to austere.
There is no sense in trying to unpack here what is, even by blockbuster-fair standards, a dizzying array of works, both within Free Cooper’s subversive Step Down and the larger assortment of student works occupying every floor of the Foundation Building and much of the engineering school at 41 Cooper. The images that follow are meant to convey an impression of the scene, primarily on the seventh floor but also throughout the student shows. The point is — this is an important exhibition, singular in capturing a raw provocation to authority. It’s an endeavor as worthwhile as it is rare.
Step Down runs Tuesday – Saturday, 5 – 7 pm through June 15 on the seventh floor of the Foundation Building. Show Up runs during the same days from 12 – 7 pm at the Foundation Building and 41 Cooper Square (Cooper Square, East Village, Manhattan).
* * *