“Here you go New York. Here is your living underground, your young artists squatting—occupying!—that mythic zone the city is said to have once possessed” starts the press release-cum-incantation for M/L Artspace’s debut exhibition on view for only a few hours last saturday. The text by Caroline Busta is the perfect discursive frame for this show, written with a cool ecstasy and playful intelligence by the most astute critic of new New York.
As the title states, it all took place beneath the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in Williamsburg and as Busta coyly explains “there’s few other options available for artists who are still pre-blue chip and yet too self-possessed to brand themselves as Marxists and pander to the feel good liberal missions most American non-profits and granting organizations seek to promote.” “Under the BQE” is the latest blossoming of that Rabelaisian sensibility infusing the most interesting work in New York now. And it isn’t happening in the official spaces of art, or within the purview of earlier generations.
Walking between the cars part of the joke is that it is hard to distinguish the pre-existing city carnage from intentionally placed sculptures. I asked Marie Karlberg if a pile of dilapidated shelves with water jugs was someone’s art and we both burst out laughing; she finally said “if a collector wants it I’ll sell it to them, but it was already here.” There is a lot of sculpture, post-Tuttle, that looks like trash and depends on the sanitary cube to make it precious; this show does the opposite, it makes you look around with heightened precision at what is going on—everything is regarded with a good hearted suspicion.
Lyndsy Welgos’ “Museum Bitch (I meant Bench)” (2013) is a sculpture playing with the language of elegant museum furniture. The faux stone seat is suspended between a plaster leg and one of the support columns of the BQE. It sticks its runny stump into one of contemporary art’s favorite conversations: the distance between the pristine museum context and the places where life happens, although instead of upholding a simple binary, it complicates it at the level of form and placement. It would be too easy to simply relocate a generic gallery object to the parking lot, so Weglos constructs a strategically messy one from cheap construction material. At the very moment it asserts itself as “art”, it also recognizes its dependance on other structures to exist.
For our generation art and life are more intertwined than ever, and not through the homogenizing blur Kaprow championed. Instead it is something more like the pleasures of queering, where both categories are destabilized: endlessly complicating and transgressing each other.
M/L artspace is a project of artists Marie Karlberg and Lena Henke and it will pop-up in various peripheral venues around the city over the coming months. Henke showed “Cry Baby” (2013) a clear resin drape articulating a couch, held at the bottom with two coconuts. It is ghost furniture, as Henke jokingly says, “the perfect place to cry.”
Sitting on the corner of “Cry Baby” is Karlberg’s personal computer. Called “Life Access: 2004-2012” it is a work in the long line of feminist artists asking “what do you want from me?” One thinks of Andrea Fraser having sex with a collector and Jill Magid offering her body after death (she will be transformed into a synthetic diamond, you get the empty ring setting until then.) This laptop is an all access pass to Karlberg’s various personal and professional personas. “You would have to be a total pervert to buy this work,” says Karlberg, “which is the point.”
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-Contributed by Jarrett Earnest