Bones' Beat: Saying Goodbye to Guild & Greyshkul with On From Here
Jamie Isenstein's 2006 sculpture Intermission, a portable brass easel with a white-on-black handmade sign bearing the work's title, sat in the office area of the Guild & Greyshkul gallery last week. It was a small component of On From Here, a supersized four-day group exhibition and valedictory fling for the well liked and, now, abruptly closed young gallery on Wooster Street. Intermission will not change your life--it doesn't occupy as eerie a space between performance and sculpture as it thinks it does--but the scores of young people who care about this gallery are rallying behind 'intermission,' the mantra, the notion that this closing represents a pause between one great act and another.
Founded in 2003 by three grads from the soigné Cooper Union, Guild & Greyshkul scouted for the youngest promising artists at local schools, didn't advertise, and never shied away from big gestures (a ballsy booth of giant Valerie Hegarty paintings at the 2005 NADA fair in Miami sticks in the memory). The gallery faithfully represented its stable of artists in New York and secured them shows around the world. Theirs was a collegiate, near Greek, atmosphere, and they worked as friends, having fun, while teaching themselves the business. They did it rather well. I'd hesitate to call Guild & Greyshkul a casualty of the choking economy, for the project never seemed to boast big profits or ever aspire to have much to lose. With 120 artists of every possible mood and medium jammed into the space, last week's On From Here was a total embodiment of the gallery's ideological playbook: comically ambitious, familial, educational, and euphoric.
A critic might try, with steroids or amphetamine, to list and lay out each of the dozens of micromovements--groupings in works commonly nuanced in technique, subject matter and voice--that sprouted from this exhibition. I won't. This is the Petri-dish ideal cultivated by art MFA programs, a kind and controlled environment where ideas waft over 8-foot studio walls and meet at slop sinks and splattered microwaves, a place of experimental incubation. It's invigorating to stand in the middle of so many of these youthful swells, as On From Here encouraged, but you'll drive yourself batty if you try to honor every overture of worth simply because it's approximately corroborated by another across the room. From a critical perspective, the most reliable route to nourishment from a giant young group exhibition like this is to find one beat that says something clear about the world you live in, and roll with it.
Uri Aran's contribution was a polyurethaned bowling ball that had been hacked at with a chisel. He didn't get very far, but it was far enough below the crust to produce some interesting answers about bowling balls. Adam Henry's inky little nocturne, a bare, big-sky countryside landscape, was ribboned with lightning created by tearing and repairing the paper so thatjagged white seams crashed through. Every plane of Benjamin Degen's large figurative oil painting, a sun-drenched room of the sort Bonnard's ladies used to sit in, was covered in paint-loaded brushstrokes that turned all elements into intricate, eddied woodgrain. Rachel Foullon's twirl of ocean-blue dyed canvas, stiffened by sea salt and hanging on a nail, suggested hippie alchemy, tide tied into parchment. These, and many other artists in the show, spread an oddly disengaged touch around the gallery; the level of measured resourcefulness in play--bashing up a bowling ball or tearing through to the weave of watercolor paper--comes from having a read on the trappings of the physical world that's both keen, strong, and notably disembodied. It was a trip to conclude that young artists are finding layered lushness in the world, then choosing to produce elegant, tamed, dispassionate things.
A deeper idea of intermission can be read in this work, something bigger than openings and closings and calendars. A two-year sojourn in an MFA program, or a grad's self-designation as 'artist' when what they mostly 'do' is steam lattés in Brooklyn or crate Warhols in Chelsea, is an intermission from the concerns of the larger population. The discoveries they make in their break from real life may grow to have relevance upon their reengagement, or they may grow to mean nothing. As Guild & Greyshkul's nurturing clubhouse goes dark in Soho, a community of young artists has been offered a timely pause to weigh the worth of what they've done, what they're doing, and what they propose to do next.-Bones
The Guild & Greyshkul website will likely live a good while longer, frozen, until it expires from neglect. It is a time capsule already, and brimming with information. The same can be said of the recently shuttered Rivington Arms, or Roebling Hall, where the first Bones' Beat column occurred.
Next week, Bones checks out Synthetic at the Whitney, an exhibition that's been open three weeks and has yet to provoke a word of discussion. An investigation of the various effects of acrylic paint's rise to prominence as an alternative to oil from the '60s onward, it looks unstressful and thoughtful. Is that a problem?