Moving to a new town is disorienting. The streets do not yet make sense. The grocery store has strange foods. The restaurant chains arrange themselves differently. The art world shifts and morphs, revealing new opportunities, expansive possibilities, and gaps to be filled.
I recently moved from Minneapolis-Saint Paul to Chattanooga, Tennessee. I am adjusting to the differences in climate and landscape. I am discovering the differences in the art scenes between the two cities, reframing my understanding of what the art world is in Chattanooga and its relation to other cities I know. Every city has its advantages – an established collector base, commercial and independent art spaces, funding for the arts and artists, less commuting time, cheaper rent, lower cost of living, nicer weather. No city has everything. The established notions we have about the art world and its centers of power seem unshakeable. New York City exerts a magnetic pull on artists, collectors, arts appreciators, and people looking for the newest trends; Los Angeles has a different yet very present attraction.
Artists are more mobile now than ever, moving between cities, traveling to make and show work. The boundaries between cities and regions of the country are fluid. This mobility reveals the privilege of the people who can move within it, and it opens opportunities for reexamining the hierarchies we have created and reinforce. What happens when a small town in Arkansas opens a lavish museum? Do the art fairs in Miami attract artists to live there year round? Is Austin a major contemporary art center because of the other cultural activity that happens there? Will artists seek out Asheville when they no longer remember Black Mountain?
Andy Sturdevant’s interactive performance seminar, U.S. Cities Contemporary Art Rankings, investigates the notion that the art world is static and unchanging and questions what we value in contemporary art and how we prioritize it. Andy visited Chattanooga in January to ask students, artists, and community members to rank the top 125 metropolitan statistical areas into five tiers – Major and Secondary National Contemporary Art Centers, Major and Secondary Regional Art Centers, and Important Local Contemporary Art Centers. The exercise of making these rankings explicit and public revealed much about how we form opinions and how Chattanooga fits into conversations within the regional and national art world.
Before cities can be ranked, the conversation begins by establishing the criteria for an attractive contemporary art city. The criteria for the crowd in Chattanooga was similar to other city’s criteria and included: a significant number of artists, art schools, economic opportunities for artists, arts infrastructure, and press coverage of the arts.
Starting in the middle of the list, we worked down, debating which cities fit on each tier. The definitions of what constitutes the tiers developed slowly, as the lower tiers accrued meaning and complexity with each new town. Individual voices prevailed. Participants shared their experiences at Virginia Beach or Eugene, and their recounting of great galleries or vibrant artist run spaces easily swayed the votes.
Working up from the middle, placing the cities became increasingly complex. The looming specter of the top cities by population (New York and Los Angeles) weighed over discussions as the second and third tiers filled with Minneapolis, San Francisco, Atlanta, Baltimore. The debate grew increasingly heated as Detroit and Miami were both placed in the second tier before we ended with LA and New York and the final list. I did not agree with all of the decisions – the heartbreak of democracy. I wanted a deeper discussion of potential top sub tiers (1A, 1B…), but that conversation and others about the relative locations of other cities will continue to happen here. The power of Andy’s performance seminar lies in the conversations it generates, in the room and long after. The iterative nature of the list making keeps the debate alive, allowing differences to develop and for the list to shift over time.
Chattanooga was Andy’s seventh and smallest city to create its own Rankings. As he says, “The discussions of the city’s place in relation to neighboring cities of equivalent size were very interesting, and quite unlike discussions in, say, New York or Chicago. It felt very much like the sorts of casual, bar-based conversations people have about their various towns and scenes outside the large art centers. Which is how the project began in the first place.”
We live in a rapidly changing world. The internet and easy travel have dismantled the hierarchies we thought we knew. We do not expect all flowers to grow in the same soil. We need sun and shade, the right balance of moisture, and careful pruning to cultivate many blossoms. The art world needs and already has that diversity; we must look in and beyond the assumed centers to find it. We should not mistake the most visible or assumed conditions for a thriving contemporary art center for the ideal conditions for every location.
Moving to a new place is not a final judgment about access to and participation in the global art world. The perceptions and assumptions about those places are malleable. U.S. Cities Contemporary Art Rankings has transformed the way I think about the art world, my place within it, my new home, and how mutable that list truly is. We are all agents of transformation, and our towns move up and down the formal and mental lists of contemporary art centers based on our actions, our words, our ability to demonstrate that art and artists thrive in different circumstances and different conditions. Chattanooga’s conversation will continue in bars, at openings, in the streets, as we make the art center we envision, as we prepare the soil, sun, and water we need to thrive.
Bridget Donahue is standing in her own gallery of the same name overlooking the Bowery. Bridget Donahue is a space longer than it is wide, with two rooms. One room is a long spacious stretch; the second, smaller room also serves as an exhibition venue referred to as the Office. Works for the first exhibition are arriving in staggered shipments, and with each arrival, fresh anticipation of how the artworks will exist together in the cleared rooms. The gallery floors are a soft wood newly exposed and sanded; previously carpeted in a past life when the space was an industrial workroom. On February 19, the doors open for the first time to the public with a solo exhibition by Lynn Hershman Leeson. Just months after Bridget left her previous position as a director at Gavin Brown’s enterprise in late 2014. Prompting the move was a frank curiosity: a desire for the ability to choose who and what to show.
Bridget and I discussed her beginnings as an archivist in Gladstone Gallery. Her favorite place to be was in the archives. When offered a promotion in the gallery, Bridget desisted, deciding instead to stay in the archives. And to this day, Donahue opened her own gallery with the archives in mind – a return to the research sparked by artists’ interests, and in the articulations voiced by viewers. Talking casually, I ask what one of the greatest excitements will be in opening Bridget Donahue. She replies “…a new audience will walk into this space, connected by and bringing with them a conversation pertaining to the work in this room.”
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Hero Sandwich Series: Rowlands/Bogart, 1980, Hand-painted silver gelatin print, 102 x 76 cm
Erin: You mentioned to me that you began your studies in anthropology, and by way of textiles, transitioned into visual art. Can you describe the change of interest?
Bridget: I moved to New York with my sights set on working with textiles. A friend pointed me towards NYFA’s job listings and the post for Archivist at Gladstone Gallery caught my eye. I was already familiar with the gallery through my research and love for artists such as Alighiero e Boetti, Rosemarie Trockel and Thomas Hirschhorn. I applied, got two interviews and the job. Looking back to that time, I had no idea how important it was to land a job at such an important gallery. I was an absolute sponge to all printed matter around me. Barbara Gladstone has an impeccable archive and library. That job was a gift. It changed the course of my professional life in all ways.
Erin: The first exhibition at Bridget Donahue will be Lynn Hershman Leeson, followed by a benefit for Dancing Foxes Press, and then Susan Cianciolo, the selection moving from multimedia to publishing to fashion. Is there an indication of the gallery’s focus between these upcoming artists?
Bridget: All of these exhibitions share the same core value – I’m deeply impressed and inspired by the artists and projects. I wholeheartedly believe in them, in all they do, for as long as they’ve been doing it. I could not fashion a better role for myself than to contribute to the success of their future.
Erin: Can you describe the difference in the role of creating a commercial path for an artist whose career you are helping to facilitate from the beginning, versus an established artist whose career you are renewing?
Bridget: For me there is no difference from the standpoint of my own conviction. For artists who have been working longer there is more material out there to discuss and more people have formulated opinions. I’m looking forward to rewriting some of the words around peoples’ practices, offering a new perspective, and seeing what people think in 2015. I may have more to say about this after I’ve done it!
Erin: Moving from Gladstone Gallery, to D’Amelio Terras to Gavin Brown’s enterprise, to now your own space, can you describe the most rewarding aspects of representing artists? As well, can you trace a consistent focus that you have maintained between all three experiences?
Bridget: The consistent focus has been to listen to artists, to learn from them and to also learn from the people who are interested in their work. It’s an experience like no other to have a full picture of an artist’s output. To know who their supporters are, who they look up to, who they learned from, who they are inspired by…that sends me off on myriad other paths of research and curious investigation. That’s how I formulate what I want to learn about, what I want to see more of, and that is the main objective of my gallery.
Erin: You also help organize exhibitions for Cleopatra’s, a Brooklyn nonprofit space, and the current curatorial team for this year’s Looking Back – The 9th White Columns Annual. Do you see a difference in the value of curating within the collaborative environment of Cleopatra’s as opposed to your own space? And has that difference changed from the difference between your involvement in Cleopatra’s and your participation at Gavin Brown?
Bridget: I absolutely see the difference in the value of working with the group; it challenges you to look and think about things you may not otherwise stop to study. Cleopatra’s changed as we all matured in our day-jobs-turned-careers. We want different things from it now; we have a greater appreciation for its distinct attitude. It is a labor of love and commitment to making projects among peers who are connected to one another through a community – people who we want to cheer on. In our recent – and really first published press mentions – the New York Times and New York Magazine, the writers have variously nodded to this spirit of Cleopatra’s. It’s taken almost seven years of our doing Cleopatra’s for that to be fully articulated. It feels good and celebrates our resistance to turning that project into something different than it is. I’m very proud of that.
Erin: What is most daunting in opening your first gallery in this city?
Bridget: I am most daunted by the mystery of whether or not it will work.
Susan Cianciolo, installation view of Run Retrospective, 2003, francesca kaufmann, milan
Work by Lyra Hill and Daviel Shy.
Roots & Culture is located at 1034 N. Milwaukee Ave. Screening Sunday at 7pm.
Work by Angie Evans, Phil Parcellano, Gwen Zabicki, Philip von Zweck, EC Brown, Vincent Dermody, Patrik Qvist, Irene Perez Gil, Catie Olson, Morgan Richardson, Kevin Jennings, Traci Hercher, Adam Farcus, Derek Weber, Bryan Volta, Brandon Alvendia, Jenyu Wang, Rebecca Beachy, Victoria Martinez, Dan Sullivan and Edra Soto.
The Franklin is located at 3522 W. Franklin Blvd. Reception Saturday at 6-10pm.
Work by Tirtza Even, Steve Davis, Steve Liss and Richard Ross.
David Weinberg Photography is located at 300 W. Superior St. Reception Friday at 5-8pm.
The current political differences between Moscow and Kiev seem intractable. But it remains true that both governments have an interest in cultivating sustenance. Both governments need to eat.
A new London show by Ukrainian artist Nikita Kadan revolves around a vegetable patch. Well-cared for lettuce and herbs grow in a square yard of rich, dark soil. The sight is nourishing, a stark contrast to the death toll of 5,000 killed since fighting began in 2013.
But there’s more to this installation than plantlife. Straddling the small plot is a three-panel display stand designed to celebrate Soviet agricultural planning. Unimpressed by the memory, Kadan leaves off the sloganeering. The boards are blank.
“I combine my works from, let’s say, confronting elements quite often,” Kadan tells me from Kiev via Skype.
“I use forms from Soviet neomodernism often and somehow they represent this gap between having a Soviet era project and . . . then doing things for purposes you understand, not as part of any ideological programme.”
You don’t need to look far to find a response. A slide carousel projects images of protest from the capital’s Independence Square, a pro-EU gathering which came to be known as the Euromaidan.
Here too they are growing food, albeit shabbily. Patches of greenery break out between makeshift tents. They indicate that non-Soviets can also sustain themselves. Supporters of European alliance can also reap a cabbage or two.
Programme or no programme the Maidan could claim a famous victory when in Feburary 2014, then president Yanukovych fled the Ukraine.
But the incumbent government was just as uneasy about the lively protest camp on their doorstep. Kadan recalls them wanting “a normal square,” but persistent occupiers of the Maidan saw a chance to create what might be “an instrument of permanent control of power”.
If Kiev was changed by events in its main square, so too were those who came to spend time there. “There was an experience of unity and an experience of violence and these were experiences which transformed us very much,” says Kadan.
The politics of the Maidan were eclectic; it encompassed liberals, leftists, and nationalists. So the artist reports back on a phenomenon of “postponed questions” which allowed the camp to resist outside aggression. Over 48 hours last February there were some 77 people killed in clashes with police and security.
So the vegetation at Waterside Contemporary is as much a memorial as it is a utopian proposal. And in the midst of the square’s garden, a mournful cross reminded passersby that this was a statement as well as a food source. “We have roots in the soil,” as Kadan puts it.
It is sad and predictable that the Maidan was in August destroyed. But that just makes this show in East London all the more luminous.
“What is happening in Ukraine is very untransparent,” says the artist. “It has to be analysed, researched, described, and somehow we need to make a step out and look at this from a certain distance.”
So the history of the Maidan can now begin to grow, much like the faded crops which creep around the blasted and pockmarked city in Kadan’s optimistic collage, as seen on the surrounding walls.
These need little political knowledge to read as a celebration of gardening over military power. Even tanks can be stopped, but plantlife never; guerrilla gardening remains a lot less contentious than guerrilla warfare.
When asked about the London context for his work, Kadan says: “I don’t consider it as an act of cultural diplomacy between Ukraine and Western Europe.” It’s not, he insists, cultural journalism. His square yard of crop cultivation is more personal than that.
“It’s maybe something between what happened in Ukraine, and in the world, and in me. So I think about such a constellation.”
And so from the earth to the stars, Kadan has revealed a poetry of resistance, an idea which travels well, even as it anchors a people to their public space.
Nikita Kadan: Limits of Responsibility is at Waterside Contemporary, London, until April 4 2015
Including events at I am Logan Square Gallery, Hume Gallery, Crown Liquors, Dreamland D, Kitchen Space Gallery, Corner, Tritriangle, Uncharted Books, The Whistler, Autotelic Studios, Church of the Advent, and multiple residences.
2nd Floor Rear 24 Hour Alt. Space Festival will be located at various venues across the city. Events will take place at various times Saturday and Sunday.
Curated by Third Object, with work by Samantha Bittman, Drew Broderick, Liz Ensz, Kiam Marcelo Junio, Tim McMullen and Laura Hart Newlon.
Roots and Culture is located at 1034 N. Milwaukee Ave. Reception Friday, 6-8pm.
Work by Mara Baker, Hannah Barco, Nina Barnett, Cherith Lundin, Regina Mamou and Adam Liam Rose.
Chicago Artists Coalition is located at 217 N. Carpenter St. Reception Friday, 6-9pm.
Work by Meg Duguid.
slow is located at 2153 W. 21st St. Reception Saturday, 6-9pm.
Work by Soo Shin and Liz McCarthy.
Heaven Gallery is located at 1550 N. Milwaukee Ave. Reception Friday, 7-11pm.