2.23 / Best Of: Year Two

Best Of: Christian L. Frock

By Christian L. Frock August 16, 2011

Image: Platoon Berlin. MISSING WEIWEI, 2011; installation view. Courtesy of Platoon Berlin.

Faced with the task of compiling a list of best practices from the past year, I wondered at the qualitative measure of “best.” The relevant examples, for me, are those that continue to resonate, for better or for worse. When in doubt, I have returned to the qualitative measure instilled in me by my mother: “It matters if it matters to you.” Herewith a few things that have mattered to me over the last year.

Best Public Dialogue: Peaceful protests the world over, in person and online, on behalf of the artist Ai Weiwei, unlawfully detained by Chinese authorities on April 3 and released some eighty days later as the result of an international public outcry. From street interventions to online petitions to public demonstrations to viral media to sanguine intellectual essays, the world never stopped voicing their opinions. Despite the moral superiority of the essays about the ineffectiveness of the protests, the whole onslaught was democracy at its vociferous best facilitated by the Internet, and it was awesome.  

Taking Up Room on the Floor; video stills (clockwise from upper right): Michelle Fletcher in Hannah Ireland’s The Proscenium; Anna Halprin in James Broughton’s The Golden Positions; Siobhan Davies, The Score; and TURF Feinz in YAK Films’ RIP Rich D. Courtesy of Royal Nonesuch Gallery, Oakland.

Best Exhibition of Public Projects: Taking up Room on the Floor, curated by Dena Beard, at Royal Nonesuch Gallery, in Oakland, explored dance and movement through intricately woven observations that pulled from the studio, the street, and the Internet; it featured the likes of Francis Alÿs and Yvonne Rainer alongside Hannah Ireland and TURF Feinz, among others. It’s a damned shame if you missed it, but Beard’s essay lives on, and her dexterous flow of ideas made it the best curatorial essay I read this year.

Best Subversion of Public Space: “Chris Sollars: Museum Residency.” Artist Brion Nuda Rosch “invited” artist Chris Sollars to use the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art as an unauthorized site for art making through interventions within the museum, such as the artful repositioning of public seating in the rooftop garden. Another work, the relocation of a toilet-seat liner, made for a clever wink to Duchamp. Nuda Rosch posted documentation of the resulting works on SFMOMA’s Open Space blog.

Best Opportunity to Work in Public Space: From an actual job opportunity, sent by an actual friend, that illustrates how the word “curator” has been hijacked by morons: “Wanted Art Event Currator/Producter [sic]: The multi-city launch of our iPhone app is going to be nuts and involve social practice and flashmob artists. Want to help curate and run it for us? Please have experience doing Hollywood-style launches or production for events or other media experiences. Familiarity with instructional works, participatory art, or the flashmob scene is a plus.”

Best Opportunity for Public Exploitation: From an e-flux announcement: “Guesthouse Basel announces a call for applications to fill 10 vacant residencies during Art Basel fair. Guesthouse Basel is collaboration between e-flux and Städelschule, Frankfurt; in a form of a free, self-organized residency for young artists, curators, writers and gallerists. Guest residents will be provided with basic accommodations (hammocks), shared bathrooms, common workroom and breakfast. Residents will be expected to help run the guesthouse. The reception area of the guesthouse will be the site for public programming developed by the residents.”1 Notice how the word “hammocks” is slipped in there as the definition of basic accommodations? What other business rewards people, who work for free and pay for the privilege, with the opportunity to sleep suspended in midair, I ask you?

Best Public Recrimination: Chris Cobb’s “Note to Self: OMG! There is no privacy!” (Open Space, June 17, 2011) was the perfect antidote to Anthony Weiner’s toe-curling fall from grace and a bracing reminder that everything private is now public.

Best Appropriation from the Public Domain: When balloon animals became a matter of intellectual property, it seemed that things had gone too far. In December, the artist Jeff Koons, known widely for his appropriations from popular culture, sent Park Life, a San Francisco gallery and store, a cease-and-desist order over the sales of balloon dog–shaped bookends. Park Life responded in turn with a Complaint for Declaratory Relief saturated with biting humor in the form of legalese, including this gem: “As virtually any clown can attest, no one owns the idea of making a balloon dog, and the shape created by twisting a balloon into a dog-like form is part of the public domain.”2

Best Public Turnout: From a recent grant application rejection letter from the Sustainable Arts Foundation: “We never dreamed we would receive so many excellent submissions in our initial round; yours was one of over 800 from 48 states and 17 countries: clearly we have identified a pressing need.” With numbers like these, sustainability is perhaps best devised autonomously. The real pressing need here: seek alternatives to the grant system.

Best Programming in the Public Sphere: Hats off to Southern Exposure for consistently championing the ideas of artists in public space. Allison Smith’s Cries of San Francisco engaged some seventy artists (many virtual unknowns—always a pleasure to see) in the production of a sprawling exhibition and public program that included a daylong event in and around downtown Mint Plaza. During the Market Day Public Art Event, artists hawked their conceptual wares. Two projects I wish I had waited in line longer for: Ana Fernandez as Miranda Texidor, who wrote custom scripted love poems and letters of reference; and Liz Collins as The Walking Wounded, who would have added character to my clothing with custom-knit “scars” grafted on-site.

Best Public Art Program: San Francisco Arts Commission presents an uncommonly creative government agency–run public art program and impressively uses city space to promote artists and engage the community. Some of the more compelling projects engage discretionary space, such as Lights on Market Street, Art on Market Street Posters, and Art in Storefronts. Kudos to the SFAC for providing an open source Toolkit online for the organization of Art in Storefronts so other cities can follow suit.

Chip Thomas. Installation view, Ampersand International Arts, San Francisco, 2011. Courtesy of Ampersand International Arts.

Best Public Use of Private Space: Alternative space Ampersand International Arts, run by Bruno Mauro out of his Dogpatch neighborhood home, has been fostering site-specific projects since 1999. This year street artist Chip Thomas, by day a family physician in the Arizona section of the Navajo Nation, created a three-story-tall wheat-pasted mural of local residents on the building’s exterior; the piece’s backstory was as engaging as the work itself. (Discovering an artist with a day job as a doctor was a delightful first—happily lambasting the common misconception of street-artist-as-urban-hipster-youth.)



1. http://www.ucira.ucsb.edu/free-guesthouse-at-art-basel-june-15-19-2011/
2. http://www.parklifestore.com/2011/01/21/6-hilarious-zingers-from-the-balloon-dog-freedom-suit-filed-against-jeff-koons/

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