NoLita, Manhattan, NYC
SPRING/BREAK Art Show welcomed the weary and tired armory-week masses into the doors of the Old School house in Nolita last week to refresh our senses and have some fun. Organized by Ambre Kelly and Andrew Gori, this show strays far from the typical art fair model: rather than focusing on individual artists and selling their work, SPRING/BREAK exhibits 23 of New York’s curatorial voices. The range of art juxtaposes the serious with the playful, employing a host of innovative mediums including an antique piano, inflated lawn ornaments, and overhead projectors.
The theme of the show is also cause for a grin (or a grimace, depending on your feelings towards SciFi)–Apocalist: A Brief History of the End. Founders Kelly and Gori described the theme as aiming “to elucidate the sense of direction, disorder, celebration, or disdain generated by real or invented global or personal assumptions of calamity.”
The show went above and beyond with the Show & Tell nights that offered a guided audio tour of the courtyard via Segway. There were also group discussions, performances and artist talks - one of which was a discussion with the Arts and Labor working group of the Occupy Wall Street movement, moderated by artist William Powhida. The atmosphere was friendly and collaborative, encouraging a sense of community in a scene where openness is not always par for the course. The SPRING/BREAK experience is difficult to sum up, and probably varied greatly depending on when you visited.
So we spoke with one of the curators, Maureen Sullivan, who has worked at New Museum and Creative Time and curated independent projects at X-Initiative, Hendershot Galley, Pulse and now Old School. Here are her thoughts.
How did you approach the theme Apocalist?
It's the end of the world, so naturally I was drawn to works with a dark side + those with a good dose of humor and imaginative prophecy. Chris Marker's film La Jetee was an original inspiration about the apocalypse and time travel. I had seen Cabinet Magazine do a live performance at MoMA PS1 of Bigert & Bergstrom's The Last Calendar - and knew this prophetic work had to be part of this show. Simon Lee’s and Algis Kizys' Where is The Black Beast, inspired by Ted Hughes' darkest view of humanity, had haunted me since I saw it in a one-night screening at IFC, so I was thrilled to have an opportunity to share it with wider audiences. I had originally approached Fall On Your Sword for a pre-existing work featuring David Hasselhoff (he just may survive the Apocalypse) but they instead blew me away by creating new work - buying an antique piano, lobotomizing it, and scoring original music to clips from 24 films celebrating NYC's destruction. Hollywood has serious issues with Lady Liberty.
What did you find interesting about the space in contrast to traditional New York gallery spaces?
I'm a fan working in unusual spaces for public art and site-specific projects, and the artists really responded to it, too. Eve Sussman was immediately transfixed by the stained glass portrait in one classroom and spent a week creating a new work to animate it to a song from Robert Frank's Pull My Daisy. I wisely invited only artists that embrace the challenge of blacking out windows and creating 4 channel video installations with only one outlet. Fall On Your Sword actually amplified the stale smell in their room spraying "I HATE PERFUME's scent of Damp Earth on the carpet each day!
How did you become involved with Spring/Break? In what ways does this project compare to your past curatorial endeavors?
I met Andrew and Ambre a couple of years ago through one of the fellow curators Natalie Kovacs, and I've been so inspired by their positive spirit and openness to using the Old School for art projects - I don't think they said no to any request. With many projects in the past I was working in a vacuum, so I really liked the sense of community that the group of curators fostered.
Some of Spring/Break’s artists, like Eve Sussman, have had a lot of success in the art world, showing at big events like the Whitney Biennial. Do you think the overlap between conventional art world events and more collaborative, innovative shows is necessary?
With all her success, Eve's the furthest thing from a diva artist–she's completely rooted in collaboration and building community with artists. She was really looking forward to getting out of the white box and down and dirty, so she relished the opportunity to work at Old School and she created something wildly unexpected and fantastic. She wants to do more there now! But it’s rough conditions so it’s not for everyone.
How do you feel about the final outcome of the show?
I had tremendous feedback both from visitors and artists participating in the show. It seemed to deliver a desired alternative art experience during Armory week.