When The Shed opened in April, it was roundly panned by the cultural press, despite the fact that it is currently the most dynamic platform for emerging, contemporary art made by artists who live and work in New York City. The rough, daily endeavor of living and working here finds resonance throughout the monumental, rhomboid shape designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro that is imbued with movement. This philanthropic effort to finally preserve and platform the city’s ever-growing, marginal, creative culture is not only epic, but long overdue.
Anchored by concrete, the building is made up of moveable surfaces that extend across 200,000 square feet, dividing into an array of galleries, two theaters and a connecting plaza. Both interior and exterior accommodates devices for new technology, revealing The Shed’s dedication to contemporary art that is both edgy and unpredictable. Open Call Group 2 consists of works by 22 artists who were each commissioned to create a site-specific piece.
The vast space that comprises the Level 2 Gallery embodies the exact opposite of white-cube interiors that are still typical of many exhibition spaces. The arrangement of white walls with white light has the unfortunate effect of minimizing the very artworks on display. The Level 2 Gallery avoids this diminishment by way of its dark, austere appearance. With limited but specific lighting, each artwork emerges on its own and remains independent from the architecture surrounding it.
Appearing to the left side of the main entrance, Llevatelo To’No Me Deje Na (2019), by Gabriela Corretjer-Contreras, recreates the bedroom of her alter ago, Nena. The colorful fabrics, flowers, photographs, and ephemera seen along with the artist’s collection of designed clothes reflect her own identity as a citizen of Puerto Rico. The title of the installation is drawn from the pop song “Llévatelo todo, no me dejes nada,” and it is set into a colloquial that reveals the close connection between the artist and Nena. Moko Fukuyama’s installation titled A Kind of Pain (2019) appears directly opposite and shows a large wooden sculpture that appears as a piece of found driftwood, on one side, while reflecting the representation of a polished, colorful fish lure on the other. When seen within the context of the video that appears on the juxtaposing wall, A Kind of Pain presents an ongoing and unresolved critique of the fishing industry.
She Models for Her (2019), by Maryam Hoseini and Phoebe d’Heurle, is a collaborative installation that examines the historic exchange between contemporary artists and those of the past. The inspiration for this installation was the 19th-century French painter Suzanne Valadon, who first worked as a model for artists before pursuing painting on her own. Although Hoseini and D’Heurle bring together work by other artists such as Dorothea Tanning, A.L. Steiner, Lucas Samaras, Emma Amos and Diane Simpson, this installation looks more like a planning-sketch for a group show and less of a statement on women’s representation within the scope of art history. Sliver (2019), made by the WangShui studio, combines fragments of LED mesh previously used for advertisements which reflect video but appears primarily as a glow of tones that alternate between purple, blue and white.
Issues of privacy and surveillance are addressed by Asif Mian’s Decoys in Varying Studies of Nothingness and Specter (2019), where a square of foil-covered flooring extends between two projection screens. Additional props covered in foil and plastic distract from the hidden cameras and projectors that reflect each observer’s hollowed-out, photo-negative representation, leaving this work suspended in an unsettling ambiguity. Collective observation and memory continues to play-out in Julia Weist’s Study for Fiction Plane (2019), where suspended rows of framed photographs appear. The picture of a rendered interior appears on one side of each image, while a text description appears on another. Weist culled these images from an archive that is used to create sets for immersive experiences, calling into question what is real and what is not.
The Forever Museum Archive: The Untitled / A Template for Portable Museums (2019) presents three monumental-sized snake heads that sprawl around an excessively large sculpture of a winged foot, alluding to the mythological figure Hermes. Popular culture and consumption collapse in this work by Onyedika Chuke, giving it the appearance of an historical satire since technology has fully outstripped the weighted relevance of the West’s monumental history. Although Chuke describes his installation as portable, it remains weighted down by its own materials of steel, concrete and clay.
Analisa Teachworth and Kiyan Williams conclude this show with two interactive installations that strike a deep chord as American society continues to grapple with its history of racism. The Tribute Palette (2019), by Teachworth, consists of a small square shack made of wood, tin, and steel piping. Inside this compact, ramshackle structure, one is transported to the swampland of the American South, where homes rest on wood-frames that are anchored in the water below, located among the groves of cypress trees. Teachworth also presents a jar of candy alongside video projections that examine the history of sugar as a highly prized commodity and source of slave labor, calling into question the basis of African-American identity. Meditation on the Making of America (2019), by Kiyan Williams, presents a moving commentary on the African diaspora across America. Here, Williams presents an open sarcophagus made of soil, set upon a white pedastal. Long dreadlocks extend from the head of the sculpted, sleepy-faced figure across a large plastic tarp. A pair of sneakers appear on the left, right below a large, stretched canvas that shows a representation of the United States. Within the lines, Williams built up layers of dirt sometime smearing it around the composition. Dirt lands in splatters across the empty areas of the canvas, even up along the wall and down on to the floor. This earth-filled composition is both historic and cathartic.
Throughout Open Call Group 2 there is a reconsideration of content. Initially the exhibition seems like a new starting point, of sorts, since the works appear to be less volumetric than one would expect in the more allowing space of The Shed, and nearly every work similarly more stripped-down. Each installation contains less material but is more visual suggesting of content that has become a series of data-mediated illusions. Sound, video and new media have allowed these artists to be more succinct and compact within their representations. Much like the American avant-garde in the 1960’s, an artwork’s meaning is found in ephemeral, performative moments that include audience interaction. The Shed is New York City’s Kunstverein that commissions and supports artists who are less well-known but whose work carries the quality seen throughout museums and private collections. Although the initial reception of The Shed was derisive, the population of artists who have already shown here hints at a new vibrant current that will revise and replace what came before.
Jill Conner is an art critic based in New York City with a focus on Modern and Contemporary Art. Since 1997 Conner has contributed to publications such as Afterimage, Art in America, Art Papers, Interview Magazine, New Art Examiner, Performance Art Journal, Sculpture and Whitehot Magazine.