Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Secret Project Robot
389 Melrose St (between Knickerbocker and Flushing/Irving)
Bushwick, Brooklyn NY 11237
Part manifesto, part showcase, “Takeover!!” presents work by fourteen members of Good Children Gallery, a curatorial space in New Orleans founded in 2008. Rooted in the city’s recent climate of radical transformation, the exhibition chronicles a movement entirely organized by artists.
“About five years ago, artists started curating shows regularly in New Orleans,” explains Christopher Saucedo, a founding member of Good Children. “As curators it was not just our own artwork we were pushing to a dealer, but suddenly we could define the broader aesthetic possibilities using the artwork of others. This was a big shift in the ego driven 'my artwork is better than yours' status-quo. Now we all had both the opportunity and the responsibility to see the bigger picture, which has made a world of a difference.”
The collective Good Children is a forerunner of the many artist residency programs, pop-up exhibitions, studios and co-op galleries that have since flourished in the Bywater neighborhood. Privately run and open freely to the public, the gallery strategically generates exhibitions that widen the frame of reference for artists who have studios and homes in the Upper Ninth Ward. Located in a zone frequently cited for its post-Katrina revitalization, the gallery is culturally positioned in an area of the city that has long been a stronghold of grassroots activism.
Following an unprecedented influx of visual artists and the emergence of Prospect New Orleans, an international arts biennial, the regional demand for contemporary exhibition spaces has boomed. Now, all year round, whether recognized by the biennial or not, artists who have the means to do so are writing their own curatorial agenda. In this environment, Good Children has led a surge in local exhibitions at artist-run spaces, which serve the community by closing gaps left open by underfunded museums, non-profits and commercial galleries.
The salon-style hanging of “Takeover!!” invokes the tradition of artist-organized group displays, such as the first Impressionism exhibition in Paris and those of the Salon des Indépendants. Featuring nearly fifty artworks, the exhibition also includes a selection of artists’ writings and letters of protest addressed to the New Orleans Contemporary Art Center. An institution founded in 1976 by an earlier generation of artists, the CAC symbolizes an established system, even if it is somewhat dysfunctional. The letters explain a series of controversial staff resignations in 2012 at the museum, which was prompted by the CAC’s bungled exhibition “Spaces: Antenna, The Front, Good Children Gallery”. These texts not only illuminate the artists’ frustration with the museum, but they also reaffirm the general objectives of self-run art galleries in the Bywater.
The energy of Bushwick is easily comparable to scene on St. Claude Avenue in New Orleans. The voices of younger artists are amplified, along with that of newcomers. Yet in recent years, the level of accessibility and professionalism in the Bywater has risen to the point of rivaling the local offerings at arts institutions with public funding. The idea of such an eclipse has stirred a new generation of debate on the role museums play in the regional support of contemporary art practice.
Among the co-op structure’s many advantages are the global and national perspectives of its members, and the network of exchange fostered in off-site exhibitions hosted by like-minded artist collectives. For example, the exhibition of Good Children Gallery artists at Secret Project Robot is one such reciprocal arrangement. In March 2011, Good Children organized a show in New Orleans curated by the collective Live With Animals. That exhibition, “Be Love: Happily Ever After, A Glimpse of the Post-Apocalyptic Future”, included the work of three New York artists: Raul de Nieves, Erik Zajeceskowski and Rachel Nelson.
A fully illustrated guide accompanies “Takeover!!”, and will be available May 10 at the gallery and online. A panel discussion featuring guests from New Orleans will take place at 2:00 PM, May 31, during Bushwick Open Studios weekend.
Saturday, May 10, 7:00 – 10:00 PM
Installation view of guns to be distributed to artists to turn into works of art.
Deborah Luster is an award-winning photographer whose stunning works are permanently exhibited in prestigious museums. And it all started with a gun.
On the night of April 1, 1988, James Harrod slipped through a window of a home where Luster’s mother, a wealthy widow, lived alone. He walked into the bedroom where the woman was sleeping. He put a pillow over her head and shot her five times at close range with a .22 caliber pistol. He was convicted of murder by an Arizona jury.
Harrod was not immediately arrested; it took years for the police to put the case together. But Luster always suspected that it was him. She had met the man when he had come to her mother’s home, posing as a journalist. Luster feared for her own life. She was “sleepless for a year.” She suffered extreme anxiety, “diving under houses in the middle of the day.”
“I had nowhere to turn, so I turned to art,” Luster recalls. “The camera became a shield that I could hide behind.”
Now, Luster is one of 31 local and national artists who will participate in “Guns in the Hands of Artists,” an exhibition announced on Wednesday at the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery. The artists will choose from among 186 decommissioned guns obtained from the New Orleans Police Department’s gun buyback program, and turn them into original works of art. The exhibition will open at the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery on October 3, 2014.
Ferrara and artist Brian Borrello mounted the first “Guns in the Hands of Artists” exhibition in 1996, in response to an exploding murder rate in New Orleans. Painters, glass artists, sculptors, photographers and poets used decommissioned guns to create provocative works of art. Ferrara said on Wednesday that he is reprising the exhibit because gun violence has continued, “from Sandy Hook to Central City.”
The exhibit will be a backdrop for lectures, panel discussions, and educational tours. He hopes to spur conversation, using art as “the language for dialogue” about the issue of guns in our culture. A percentage of the sales of the artists’ work will go toward buying back more guns off of the streets of New Orleans.
“Guns in the Hands of Artists” is a community wide collaboration. Ferrara enlisted the aid of the City Council, the Mayor’s Office, and the NOPD to obtain the guns. It took months to convince the police department and the ATF, according to Council Member Susan Guidry, who chairs the City Council’s Criminal Justice Committee.
On Wednesday, the guns that will serve as the artists’ raw materials were laid in a circle on the gallery floor. As the speeches wound down, the seven artists on hand descended upon the circle and began to pick their weapons of choice. While most of the artists searched carefully, almost gingerly, though the collection, Luster went straight for two of the biggest, most menacing pieces.
“I decided,” she said, "to go for heft. "
The New Orleans Advocate Features Jonathan Ferrara Gallery's Upcoming 'Guns in the Hands of Artists' Exhibition
Artist Deborah Luster speaks at 'Guns in the Hands of Artists' Press Conference
In a city where people seem to have no trouble finding — and firing — perfectly good weapons, a group of New Orleans artists seemed tickled Wednesday to pick through a pile of charred, mangled castoffs, like bargain shoppers after a gun show arson.
Local printmaker Katrina Andry gently picked up a dismantled revolver — the first gun she’d ever touched, she said.
Adam Mysock, a Tulane University art professor who works in miniature, peered along a busted-off shotgun, admiring the scrollwork and seeing if he could fit a tiny portrait into the barrel.
John Barnes hoarded his cache of melted 12-gauge pieces and a pistol-grip shotgun with a blown-out chunk of black metal where the barrel once aimed straight.
“It says, ‘Boom!’ ” said Barnes, a Dillard University art professor who said he plans to create an altar with the scorched firearms. “You can’t help but be fascinated by the workmanship and physics that goes into these guys.”
The artists were there to select from 186 firearms supplied, in various degrees of blowtorched ruin, by the New Orleans Police Department for a project aimed at calling attention through art to gun proliferation and violence.
Organizers of the “Guns in the Hands of Artists” project say 31 artists will create works to be shown beginning in October, coinciding with Prospect 3, an international contemporary art showcase coming to New Orleans in the fall.
The gun project revisits the theme of a 1996 exhibition on Magazine Street that garnered national attention not long after the city’s murder rate peaked with more than 400 killings in one year, making New Orleans the nation’s murder capital — a title it has held in several years since, though not in 2013.
Back then, said project organizer Jonathan Ferrara, the guns were much easier to come by, at least for the artists.
“Unfortunately, guns are still an issue, with the mass murders in Sandy Hook and everything since 18 years ago. It truly is a continual issue here in New Orleans. It’s a continual issue in this country, and it never seems like it’s going to go away,” said Ferrara, who is hosting the event at his Julia Street gallery.
“Unfortunately, I feel the need to revisit this exhibition again. It’s almost like a potluck dinner (with the artists): I give you a chicken and you give me back a dish.”
The chickens, in this case, were a challenge to pry from a coop tended by NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas.
Ferrara enlisted the help of the Mayor’s Office and City Council members to negotiate the release of a stash of firearms culled from gun-buyback initiatives.
The back-and-forth took 18 months, with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ultimately getting involved.
Serpas’ main concern, Councilwoman Susan Guidry said, was that somehow the weapons could be used in a violent episode that would kick back on the NOPD.
“The chief wavered on it. They did not give these guns up easily,” Guidry said at a news conference on the project Wednesday.
Councilwomen Stacy Head and LaToya Cantrell also attended to trumpet the project.
“I thought it would be easy, and goodness, getting these guns,” Head said. “I was naive.”
The artists figured they’d be getting the weapons in relatively pristine condition, or at least not bent and crispy. Only at the end did a blowtorch come into play.
“I was like, ‘Damn, I can’t believe this happened to me,’ ” Ferrara said of the roadblocks. “I thought: Look at how much you had to go to get these guns legally, when you could get them illegally online in about 15 minutes.”
Some of the artists have embraced the aesthetic challenge of working with 126 handguns and 26 long-barreled firearms in various states of heat-induced damage.
“I think it’s kind of funny. They didn’t want to put these guns in the hands of artists,” Deborah Luster said. The photographer and Guggenheim fellow has been widely recognized for her work archiving portraits of Louisiana prisoners and documenting the sites of New Orleans murders.
Luster said her pursuit of art gelled after her mother was murdered on April Fools’ Day in 1988 by a contract killer who broke in and shot her five times in the head with a .22-caliber pistol in her bedroom.
Mysock, too, told a personal story of gun violence up close. He said he was living at Fourth and Baronne streets in Central City in 2004 when he heard gunfire outside his window on Super Bowl Sunday and peered out to see “a guy unloading his clip on a 16-year-old kid.”
“To hear the kid’s mother wail for six hours was probably worse than witnessing the actual event,” he said.
As she grieved, Super Bowl fans were roiling in pop-shock from the controversial halftime prank, involving Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson, known as “Nipplegate.”
Ferrara said he hopes the artists return with pieces that generate a new dialogue, free of the worn political rhetoric surrounding debates on gun control. He said he has planned panel discussions and educational tours around the exhibition. A portion of the proceeds will go to future gun buyback programs.
On Wednesday, Luster pulled out two big shotgun barrels and a pair of cylinders from the pile, figuring to grind them down and melt them for her artwork.
“I don’t want to get greedy, but I went for the heft,” she said of her selections.
Luster strapped her purse on one shoulder, and on the other hoisted a blue cloth bag with her new art materials. She strolled out the door and sauntered down Julia Street, gun barrels aimed skyward.