Monday, January 25, 2010

Bruce High Quality Foundation University

Last weekend I went to see the Bruce High Quality Foundation University installation at the Susan Inglett gallery in Chelsea. I really wanted to go home and nap after a nice and leisurely brunch in Jackson Heights, but the art collective Bruce High Quality Foundation had been covered so many times in the past few months, I had to go see what the hype was all about before its closing day.

Founded by a fictional benefactor, Bruce High Quality, the Bruce High Quality Foundation is a New York City-based art collective whose name and mission is an institutional critique of the art school, patronage, and the workings of the industry. BHQF consists of four (or six? the number is disputed) twenty-something male grads of Cooper Union who, in anti-Warholian fashion, refuse to unveil their true identities to the celebrity-mongering art press. This is presumably so that their art can "speak for itself," but it's also to rid the limitations of being branded to a particular aesthetic or genre in the early stages of an individual art career.
BHQF is known for matching boyishly callow visuals with conceptually sophisticated rhetoric. The group's latest prankster project is the BHQF University: an unaccredited, free institution where "students are teachers are administrators are staff.” The corresponding show at the Inglett gallery featured chalkboards adorned with tchotchkes and phrases such as "in the future, everyone will be a foundation" and "what happens in the artworld stays in the artworld." Comical visual tropes--a noose nuzzled in a neck massager, a cigarette in a pencil sharpener, desks and chairs made from chunks of drywall, for example--were charmingly irreverent, yet other parts required references and the backstory to be fully understood.

Which is fair game to them. In a September 2009 interview with Art in America, members of BHQF explain how they see theory/art history as a medium in which to craft, likening it to tangible material such as wood or plaster. "There is always this constant fear of what art history is," they say. "Everything's been done, so how are you going to do something important in relation to that? It's been important for us to think of art history as a material, as more stuff to work with, whether it's to honor or to disparage it." With all the fictional and comical elements mixed in with serious conceptual statements like these, it's hard to know when the BHQF are joking and when they're not--which is part of the enduring appeal. My thoughts on BHQF end up all circular-like, finally surfacing into a few main questions:

Is Bruce High Quality a real guy? Obviously, no (as this audition tape from Jeffrey Deitch's Artstar reality television show makes clear).
Is BHQFU a real school? Maybe. They apparently have studios in Bed-Stuy/Bushwick, weekly workshops in Tribeca, and list real Gmail addresses that actually reply to silly queries about their fictional/maybe not fictional courses (I know, because I sent an email, and got a reply).
Does that mean they really care about changing the institution, rather than just hypocritically bitching about it? I do not know. I am planning to go to one of their meetups and find out.
Do they want us to laugh or do they want us to think? Both, I think.
Is it still possible to be fight the man and still be a successful artist in economic times like these? Can you have your cake and eat it too? I guess so. They made it to Miami ArtBasel and even sold a ton of stuff.

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