Chelsea, New York
Family Business Gallery is an interesting affair. Residing right next to one of the Gagosian outposts in Chelsea, the gallery is run by two art world stars engaging, as New York Magazine said, in some slumming: Family Business is not your traditional gallery. Massimiliano Gioni, the New Museum’s top curator and also the head of next year’s Venice Biennale, and Maurizio Cattelan, a now-retired artist who recently had a career retrospective at the Upper East Side’s Guggenheim, are the forces behind the storefront enterprise but they do not do much of the curating. Instead, as at last night’s show, they leave that up to under the radar collaborators who are able to benefit from Gioni and Cattelan’s blue-chip reputations.
We at Artsicle are no strangers to Family Business: in the beginning of April, we ventured to see the Hennessy Youngman-curated group show, “It’s a Clusterf*ck” and weren’t even able to see any of the art because the show was so mobbed. The show we saw last night, Artists Guarding Artists, was curated by Peter Hoffmeister, editor of SW!PE Magazine and a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Laura Murray, the gallery assistant at Family Business Gallery and Visitor Assistant at the New Museum. Culled from the work of artists who are employed by the Whitney, Guggenheim, MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the New Museum, the show poses “the question of how being a guard at a museum can inform the work, without necessarily trying to answer it completely with exhibition because we don’t think it’s entirely possible to pin down, and want the viewer to engage with the show from that departure point,” Peter told me over email. He thought that insider art shows, like the show at Christie’s earlier this week, were in the collective consciousness, but that perhaps the perspectives of artists showing at the Family Business show were notable because of the breadth of work present in these museum and the fact that “it could be argued that we spend the most time looking [at art], perhaps more than anyone else in the world. That goes for the curators too. We stand in the galleries 8 hours per day, 5 days per week.”
The question the show asks is raised mostly clearly by the works that explicitly concern issues of the art world or security at museums. Sandro Rodrigo’s “Sandro at Work: The Great Self-Portrait 2009” pairs the modern-day artist in his role as a security guard in front of a rendition of him as a baroque lord. Both versions of Sandro display a healthy dose of attitude, and elevate the guard to the item on display--meta, cheeky, effective. Jeff Elliott’s provocative pen and ink on paper “Fuck You, Picasso” is an angry declaration of independence from the master’s influence: in writing over a depiction of Picasso’s face gazing head-on at the viewer, Elliot tells Picasso that he “would like to excise you from my mind, from my art.” The absence of color emphasizes the starkness and anger of the letter’s postscript, from which the piece gains its name, and suggests hours spent gazing at Picasso’s work. Peter Hoffmeister’s cyanotype “Blueprint 1.001 (Met Museum)” is composed of old Met Museum blueprints and furthers his artistic investigations into line and the function of manmade systems.
As Peter indicated, though, not all of the works are concerned with this question. Artist Jackie Du told me that her job as a security guard at New Museum doesn’t necessarily inform her personal work: “I don't know that there is an obvious relationship between the work I create and the work I see every day at the New Museum” but rather it was the slow-burn of spending hours with the work at the New Museum that caused certain things to “seep into my own visual vocabulary.”
Happily, she is “more than okay with that.” Her piece, “!eseehC,” was evidence of seeping: made of acrylic on a Trader Joe’s frozen quiche box, the painting fit the New Museum’s often cheeky and playful approach to contemporary art. Peter Hoffmeister agreed with Jackie: influences taken from the museum “build slowly and without you realizing it all the time. Some things may pop up while you’re in the studio, or you have a sudden flash to something you’ve seen while on post.”
A few other non-security related works were notable as well. The luminous central white figure in Michael Varley's Devotional Object electrified by the black background, causes the slight gradations in color to glow. The twisted and crooked faces and icy blue tones of Jeramy Turner's Caspian Sea showed a visual manifestation of corruption. Songs by Cody Westphal of the Met and a performance of work from a recent issue of SW!PE Magazine provided some auditory entertainment, and the giveaways of artist Fred Fleischer's head rendered in chocolate ("Fred's Head - Eat Me!") gave a hint of the carnival-esque to gallery goers spilling out onto the street.
Jackie knew a few of the the other artists who work was in the show. “I know Ada Potter, Carol Fassler and Jeramy Turner [who] are also guards from the New Museum.” When I asked her if there were any perks to working as a museum guard that the general public may not know, her answer was definitive: “Working as a security guard is . . . quite the unglamorous gig. You wear a black button up shirt, black blazer, black pants, black socks, black shoes, stand on a hard concrete floor all day and nobody notices you until they touch the artwork or cross a tape line. You wait for the day to be over, hoping for something to happen, at the same time hoping for nothing to happen.”
Peter indicated that despite the lack of glamor, the security guard community can be quite tight-knit: when Artists Guarding Artists was initiated by Laura Murray, she first talked to Peter’s friend Doug Madill at the Whitney, who then passed the possibility of a show on to him. As one of the editors of SW!PE Magazine, the magazine started by fellow guards at the Met, he was able to involve that community as well. He hoped that the show would illuminate the “idea of what it means to be an artist today, especially someone termed to be emerging” but also knew that the answer to that was “mainly up for speculation.” The last thing Jackie told me echoed this sentiment, but more for the viewer, the person on the other side of the art-world equation: “The museum as a space wouldn't exist if people weren't confused by what they saw. People go to museums to see something ‘new,’ something to make them think differently.” She, on the other hand, goes “to the museum to work.”