P.S.1 Launches Into Autumn Via Portal to 1969

MoMA’s contemporary exhibition outpost P.S.1 kicked off its season opener on Sunday under a sharp autumn sun, all the better to highlight the location (a former school in Long Island City), the architecture (especially a Bedouin tent-structure by MOS design in the courtyard) and crowd (a mix of fashion and art types ranging from Pratt students to stylist and editor Camilla Nickerson). Current offerings in the alternative space include the likes of photographer Robert Bergman, installation artist Chitra Ganesh, and multimedia stage artist William Kentridge, though the main event is surely 1969, a survey of modern art from MoMA’s permanent collection that was produced in the final year of the swinging ’60s. Exclusive photos after the jump.

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The front courtyard of P.S.1, currently featuring landscape design by MOS; at right, a David Altmejd piece on the ground floor, part of the “Between Spaces” exhibition.

1969 co-curator Neville Wakefield is something of an oracle in the art world: three-time curator for Frieze Art Fair, senior curatorial advisor to P.S.1, prolific writer, creative director of glossy art pub Tar (currently “on hiatus“), sometimes film producer, and the sensei behind art-boys-around-town Aaron Young, Nate Lowman, and Dan Colen. The takeaway from this particular group show, organized with Michelle Elligott, MoMA Archivist, and Eva Respini, MoMA’s Associate Curator of Photography, is that painting was already dying out by the end of the 1960s (we counted only four traditional canvases) and that MoMA doesn’t collect a lot of boundary-pushing artwork, though the curators do enjoy Bruce Nauman.

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(L) Bruce Nauman, American, born 1941, Manipulating a Fluorescent Tube (1969). Video (black and white, sound), 62 min., The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Given anonymously, 2008. (R) Bruce Nauman, American, born 1941, Pulling Mouth (1969). 16mm film transferred to video (black and white, silent), 8 min. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the generosity of Joshua Adler, 2008.

The collection of period work — by all means a thoroughly entertaining gambol through the museum’s archives of Rauschenberg, De Maria, Serra, Avedon, Warhol, Smithson, and Cage — is underscored by the inclusion of five contemporary artists whose “interventions” highlight, reflect, and disrupt the collection show. Arts collective Bruce High Quality Foundation has three “portable museums” in the show; part assemblage, part sound installation, the work seems more like a in-joke with the art world than art for art’s sake. Stephanie Syjuco‘s packing blanket wall sculpture included a notable note that the felt piece on display is actually a replica of the original, due to the former school’s poor circulation system as well as the fact that “prolonged exhibition of the work at P.S.1 would preclude it from being presented in the immediate future of MoMA.”

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The controversial Smithson, elevated on a newly-built platform to preserve the coral; downstairs, a light piece by Marc Swanson inspected by a P.S.1 daytripper.

Do tell. Other facts gleaned from the information placards in the exhibition tell us that Robert Smithson‘s Corner Mirror with Coral (above) is supposed to be displayed on the floor, as per the artist’s wishes. However, MoMA asserts its authority of knowing what’s best for the preservation of the artwork and demanded a platform be built if the sculpture was to be included in 1969. Among these revelatory details are several clippings, on display in the back room, profiling disgruntled members of the Art Workers’ Coalition in the 1960s who took issue with the museum’s selection process for the permanent collection (hmmm, that sounds familiar) and neutral stance on political and social matters.

We spoke with Wakefield about his role as foil to the corporate art institution, and he admitted that his role as curator is sometimes at odds with the “approved message” from the Museum of Modern Art. It apparently took a lot of convincing to post the placards in their current incarnation, let alone some of the (incendiary, we imagine) insider tidbits originally proposed.  Wakefield, as an arbiter of what’s relevant in contemporary art, brings a needed dose of subversion and transparency to the proceedings of such a major cultural institution.

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(L) Walter De Maria, Hardcore (1969). Still photograph from the film © Walter De Maria. 16mm color film with sound, 28 minutes, filmed in Black Rock Desert, Nevada. Written and directed by Walter De Maria / music and soundtrack by Walter De Maria. (R) R.L. Haeberle, Q. And Babies? A. And Babies (1970). Offset lithograph, 25 x 38″ (63.5 x 96.5 cm).The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Published by the Art Workers’ Coalition, 1969.

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Exterior of P.S.1 Institute for Contemporary Art in Long Island City, Queens. Right, even street artists suited up for the season opener.

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Interior hallway of the P.S.1 building; at right, Leandro Erlich’s Swimming Pool installation, representative of what the artist calls “emotional architecture.”

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Tiny visitors taking in Bruce Nauman’s film piece Pacing Upside Down (1969). At right, a view from below of Erlich’s Swimming Pool.

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P.S.1 was founded in 1971 by Alanna Heiss as the Institute for Art and Urban Resources Inc., and is housed in an old school building in Long Island City, Queens.