armory week 2014

Ladies’ Night: On the BHQF’s Record-Breaking Last Brucennial

At the Brucennial. (Photo by Haley Mellin)

At the Brucennial.

It’s always hard to know how seriously one should take the Bruce High Quality Foundation but last night, at the opening of their last Brucennial group show, a source close to the anonymous collective claimed that the Bruces had called the Guinness Book of World Records and verified that this iteration—which features 660 works, all by female artists—was the largest art exhibition ever to feature only women. (This apparently called for celebration, since a group of men, including at least one of the Bruces, sat in the corner for a portion of the show blasting AC/DC, that most muscular of cock rock bands, and pouring Champagne into people’s mouths.)

Whether or not it really could claim this title (an email leaked last night from a “Bruce insider” said that several men had snuck into the show using fake names) the show is at the very least impressive in its scope. The entirety of the event space at 837 Washington Street, situated directly across from the Standard Hotel, is covered floor to ceiling with works of art. If one thing doesn’t catch your eye, move your head a few inches in any direction and something else will.

I don’t know if a jokey anti-biennial is the most effective response to the real problem that women are under-represented in the art world. On some level, it feels arrogant for a collective that declines to identify its members to take on a problem of identity politics.

On the other hand, perhaps this is part of the point. Because it turns out that an entertaining and massive all-women group show is really just like any other entertaining and massive group show (not that that’s a surprise). Unlike the current Whitney Biennial, where very talented artists like Laura Owens are made to look banal, and bland artists like Elijah Burgher are placed on pedestals, this show just throws everything at the wall and lets us decide. Maybe for this reason the works at the Brucennial seemed to hum along in unison, whereas at the Whitney none of the work seemed to connect.

I cower in the face of the volume of work here, and the quality of a lot of it, and am left with only a list of some of the things I saw that I liked:

  • Emma Cluta’s chill out tent, fashioned in the style of a big drain pipe, with a fake candle affixed on top, broadcasting “Stairway to Heaven”  throughout the room.
  • Hanna Linden’s Pussy Riot balaclava on a mannequin bust by the window.
  • Kathe Burkhart’s close-up photograph of a clitoris, sitting like a door mat on the floor.
  • Antonia March’s toilet bowl with the seat removed and the words ‘Girls Only’ written on the side.
  • Danielle Ho’s wispy portraits of Philip Seymour Hoffman.
  • Another clitoris, this one painted and pierced, by the great Betty Tompkins.
  • A contribution from Haley Mellin, under the pseudonym Haley Melon, that consisted of a tray of cookies that had languished in her oven for several months. She only discovered them recently and hung them on the wall.
  • A neon by Tracey Emin that said “Trust Yourself.”
  • Vito Schnabel, the BHQF’s dealer, canoodling with Heidi Klum.
  • A photograph of a Jenny Holzer installation that featured these words projected on the side of a building: “To acquire a political meaning you don’t even have to be human. Raw material will do, or protein feed, or crude oil.”
  • A video by Alli Coates and Signe Pierce that featured as its soundtrack an eerily slowed down version of “Blurred Lines,” a vast improvement on the original.
  • A wood sculpture by Z. Behl of an antelope skeleton, into whose rib cage a naked man stepped. He waited there for most of the opening, silently standing as if in the frame of a guillotine and ready to accept any jeers from the crowd.
  • Alexis Kandra’s painting of a goat with a lion, which made me think of Julian Schnabel, a fellow goat-painter and participant in past Brucennials, but did not exactly make me miss his presence here.
  • A canvas of peacock feathers by Carol Bove.
  • A Marianne Vitale sculpture of a bronze catheter atop a wooden chair.
  • Zaria Forman’s large landscape painting of a glacier.
  • A mobile by Laura Miller that features a wooden piece of fried chicken and ceramic fragments.
  • A Star of David constructed out of bacon by Chloe Wise.
  • A series of vulva photographs by Marilyn Minter.
  • A European man who asked me, “Is there a price list?”
  • Philippa Bennigan’s faux-New Yorker cartoon of a nude woman in a figure drawing class of all men. It was about the size of an actual New Yorker cartoon, so I had to lean in really close to read the caption: “Men cannot make positive contributions to the feminist movement; even well-intentioned men only replicate the dynamics of patriarchy.”
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