11. Michael Pepi on “Brucennial 2010: Miseducation”

The Bruce High Quality Foundation’s (BHQF) annual show — now in its third year — entitled “Brucennial 2010: Miseducation,” is a ribald gathering of artists conceived as a means of precipitating the breakdown of an aloof system: specifically the one that is embodied by the concurrent Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art. As if this wry and anonymous artist collective would have it any other way, this year’s Brucennial addresses the “art world” as a wholly separate entity. Avant-garde practice has always positioned itself in opposition to what it perceives to be an establishment complicit in the reproduction of outworn formal or social categories to punctuate their innovations with a tangible reality. And like many historically significant movements, the Brucennial makes timeless statements that are paradoxically wrapped up in their historical fields. Additionally, what makes this particular year all the more compelling is the fact that the BHQF must mediate their oppositional claims against a Whitney Biennial that finds itself in something of a self-reflexive state.

If the artists at the Whitney Biennial are vetted and supported through a Gordian and exclusionary curatorial process, the Brucennial’s submission parameters are somewhat more lax (though not altogether clear). You can grasp this much from the haphazard salon style walls and a healthy portion of work that appears as though conceived ad hoc. Wall texts? If you’re lucky, the artist’s name is scribbled near the work in pencil. Still, BHQF group delivers a decidedly unmitigated snapshot of an ignored-though-vibrant portion of the art-making demographic.

Unfortunately, one drawback of the show is that the loudest voices will come off as unrefined, and have too overtly tried to achieve an untutored effect. Nonetheless, The Brucennial reinvigorates Institutional Critique Art’s project by playing fast and loose with the symbolic strategies of patrons, mocking the vicissitudes of their carefully constructed world by (re)producing the reality which they seek to undermine. The semantic re-inscription of the word “Biennial” (here Brucennial) is the masthead upon which the Bruces turn inward and brilliantly critique their milieu.

The show seems almost literally conceived as a battle staged on what Bourdieu termed the ‘field of cultural production,’ where participants fight for and with enormous amounts of cultural capital. Its strongest works negotiate these strains and aggressively engage the contexts that lead to contemporary art’s set of highly coded formal assumptions. Many works dole out the familiar bait with regard to gendered subjects and other topics related to the “postmodern condition,” all while playfully mimicking — or downright negating — the ideal fulfillment of the art object in a period when it has become fetishized beyond all recognition. The BHQF concocted the ideal forum for unrecognized (and some well-recognized) minds to marry their plastic expressions with the show’s socio-economic umbrage.

The show’s annual progression of locations — first Bushwick, then Carol Gardens, and now SoHo — should account for much of the immediate creative impulses of the participants. If the tone of the show strikes you as young, campy, and tragically un-at-home-in-the-world, look no further than the nihilism of the creative class at large and the enclaves that they inhabit and transform.

For all its odious, sexual (indeed pornographic) iconography, there are works that excite by their ability to start irresponsible and unending skirmishes with their subjects; a subject that is assumed to be complicit in the idea of the traditional Biennial and is therefore brutalized throughout, confronted with a contemptuous, non-hierarchical “Biennial for the rest of us.”

Brucennial artists continually make evident that they have been consigned into their practice by discourse wholly out of their reach, hence the title “Miseducation.” Thankfully, the Brucennial strives to resist this power and transform their own subjectivity. In one of several manifestos, BHQF points out how MFA programs, in their drive to professionalize the artist, have “push[ed] [artists] into critical redundancy on the one hand and professional mediocrity on the other.” Near the entrance of the Brucennial is a bound volume by Maya Kishi-Anderson entitled “All I Have to Unlearn to Make Art” which precisely addresses this incongruity.

Stylistically, there is no shortage of neat reverberations of Arte Povera; though one might simply rationalize away much of the creativity on display as simply another generation learning about, and subconsciously mimicking, the strains of Hans Haacke, Marcel Broodthaers, et al. Nevertheless such derivative work itself helps to expose how the contemporary discourse has devolved into an aesthetic echo chamber. Some works are simply mired in high-concept and worn out clichés. One canvas, which depicts the words “Stop Consumerism Kill Yourself,” is (perhaps ironically) priced at $3,000. There are more seasoned artists are on view, such as Orly Genger, Julian Schnabel, David Salle, and Donald Baechler, to name a few, but who seem to be out of place or simply along for the ride.

Despite a theoretical relationship to the dematerialists’ project, the majority of the newcomers seem to have given up on the eradication of the art object. In BQHF literature, we read that the great discovery of the dematerialists was that their “attempt to separate art completely from the market” was “fruitless and naïve.” Here, perhaps the dematerialist impulse lacked sufficient means for their didactic and totalizing message; and for some who learned about the phenomenon second-hand, its cultural moment simply had passed. Today BHQF maintains “engagement with the market is probably a necessity.”

BHQF makes points about their industry’s commodity fetishism that serve to remind us how the “art world” is not so unlike the more blatantly structured sphere of mass culture. Restrictive technologies of taste, commerce, and class hegemony are constantly at work. This enigmatic collection of artists, “through various staged productions,” wants to reorganize the field to one that abstains from the notion of the “artist as expert.” Cannot our lives become works of art? The Bruce High Quality Foundation thinks so.

350 West Broadway, New York City
February 25 – April 4