The Bruce High Quality Foundation @ The Brooklyn Museum NYC

Contemporary and Old Art Reviews

The Bruce High Quality Foundation @ The Brooklyn Museum NYC

Postby CAP » Sun Jul 14, 2013 1:08 pm

Ode to Joy 2001-2013
Until 22nd September

A survey of twelve years of mostly assemblages, installations and performances by the Brooklyn-based collective known for their parodies on art history and astute self-promotion, the show delineates severe limitations to the project. The light-hearted pranks that might have seemed faintly amusing at the time do not bear revisiting. They expire here as overblown documentation of undergrad humour. The art history targets reveal no more than a scattered and superficial acquaintance with issues or works. The detournements of topical media imagery – from 9-11 to trade union protests - look dated, desperate and dumb. ‘The Bruces’, as they are apparently known locally, are not deep, distinctive or discerning. They thrive on the immediate, the flippant and whimsical. They’re after short-term returns, and can hardly be disappointed that these have diminished with time. “The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long” Mr Tyrrell once advised his boldest creation (in Bladerunner) and BHQF would do well to heed the homily. A museum show only highlights the lack of substance to these dedicated followers of fashion and frivolity. They are heavy on presentation and promotion, light on concept and grounding. That would not be a problem if works remained modest in scale and scope – we would then merely have a minor, perhaps engaging artist – but The Bruces have loftier ambitions, a grander vision that is fatally flawed.

Classical figurines and ceramics from The Metropolitan Museum of Art reproduced in Play-Doh, the re-staging of Gericault’s The Raft of The Medusa on the East River as photo opportunity, Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon as an all-male affair in photo-composite, life classes conducted for a Crucifixion, a topical version of Lloyd-Webber’s Cats in Bushwick, all emphasise casual, fleeting investment geared to easy reward. Ultimately it points to broader social practices. But The Bruces’ idea of social commentary is a little too coy to count as incisive or subversive. They have a pedagogical arm, The Bruce High Quality Foundation University, which supposedly adds intellectual weight to their programme, but this too proves no more than a stunt. It is an unaccredited course, where ‘students are teachers are administrators are staff’ and ‘admission is based on peer-recommendation’ according to follower Susan Inglett. So far it has yet to publish any substantial research. For Joseph Beuys, lectures provided means to extend the content of his performances and eventually broach environmental activism and The Green Party. For The Bruces a crammed blackboard is enough. The message is not an embodied commitment to nature, but an obscured, essentially incoherent toying with engagement and sincerity.

Their motto is ‘Professional Problems: Amateur Solutions’ but the converse is nearer the mark. Their professionalism is confined to institutional manoeuvring and marketing, their amateurism to the lame targeting of art history’s greatest hits. As Hrag Vartanian notes in his review for Hyperallergic, The Bruces pretend to be outsiders or amateurs, but they are really insiders, funded by patrons such as the thirty-fourth richest man in the U.S., Steve Cohen, whose hedge fund firm SAC Capital is under investigation for insider trading and enjoy extensive institutional patronage in Europe. They are represented by Vito Schnabel, son of artist Julian and the family connection is hardly coincidental. Julian Schnabel has been an astute dealer in art dealers for over thirty years while maintaining the priority for mere self-expression. Vartanian also notes that The Bruces’ claim to rescue art history from irrelevance or obsolescence rests on an assumption few art lovers share. Equally, it is hard to see what their amateurish replications achieve by way of redemption or reinvigoration. Renewal here amounts to no more than an adolescent denial of expertise or dedication.

The de-skilled, ramshackle posturing actually begins to signal something other than just youthful exuberance. Its unexceptional results soon invite questions of how it then comes to be singled out and promoted. Why it should be regarded as more than just an art school prank? The privileges accorded The Bruces are at once obvious and obscure. The manifest triviality to the work actually serves to underline its true assets – tacit positioning and promotion. The work is all about these other forces, their concealed connections. It’s one thing to have connections in the service of difficult or unpopular art, another thing to simply flaunt the connections for their own sake. Their collective identity also announces this in part, but while collective identities are common enough as a way of directing attention to a shared cause, beyond individual contributions, for The Bruces identities are concealed partly to aid allure, partly to direct attention to a more corporate enterprise. And like corporations, their foundation rests upon evasion, pretence and collusion. Hence the opacity they ascribe to the structure and personnel of their ‘university’ - although it could as well be any institution. It’s all about maintaining market advantage, keeping up appearances, covering up the strings.

Christian Viveros-Faune’s review in The Village Voice professes an enchantment with their youthful idealism, while quietly tracking the money through Schnabel’s connections to Cohen, dealer and collector Alberto Mugrabi (who has also been accused of insider trading in the art world), Peter Brandt collector and owner of Art in America, mega-collector Aby Rosen and Swiss dealer and collector Bruno Bischofberger. The high-profile art advisor Sandy Heller is also in the charmed circle and has ‘wondered‘ whether Vito is actually a member of The Bruces, but this hardly matters once we grasp the game. One of The Bruces tells Viveros-Faune "Artists have always figured out ways to beat the system and that's basically what we're trying to do." It is significant that there is not even any pretence of addressing artistic or expressive issues, of illustrating this patently absurd thesis. At a certain point it is just about the money and this is as close as we get to a justification for a scam that makes a fuss about art world greed only to perpetuate it; that outs the wives of convicted fraudsters but stops short of the wife of their biggest patron. Vito thinks it’s noble that The Bruces plough hefty amounts of their profits back into their business rather than fritter it away on a glamorous lifestyle, but it’s hard to see how they are different from most other ambitious artists in this respect. A good business invests in R&D, hides it from the tax man in all sorts of ways. The Bruces boast they spend more than $350,000 a year with their alternative to the Whitney Biennale, The Brucennial, their ‘university’ courses and lecture tours throughout art schools. But then again a private benefit auction (presumably of their works) for their ‘university’ raised $300,000 in an evening. As the saying goes, “it takes money to make money”.

Other gems from their interview with Viveros-Faune include “It’s up to artists to make the art world they want” and “Art’s most radical quality is that it’s useless”. The first is so solipsistic as to insult the intelligence of any art lover, much less artist, the second when not an open contradiction with following clauses that allow art has had many uses throughout its history, is quite simply naïve and wrong. Artworks represent and refer. The blatant stupidity may of course be part of the act – the wide-eyed youngish idealists, the outsiders determined to make the world a better place - but where it confuses the audience with its own fatuous grasp of the art world, it can’t even sell the dreamer, much less the dream. The Bruces claim all their money, collective efforts and anonymity have given them freedom to do ‘what they want’ as artists, but on the evidence ‘what they want’ has almost nothing to do with art.
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