Walking up Greenwich Street, you'll notice that Gavin Brown's Enterprise is missing a few walls. Entering through the western edge of the gallery, you're confronted with the word "FEAR" in large black capital letters spray-painted the length of the wall and, to the north, "EATS," in the same misty spray-paint, thick in the middle with enough drips to keep it moderately sloppy and pleasing to those jaded by uniform typography. To the east, "THE SOUL" takes up two separate walls. (What would Fassbinder make of this use of his title?) The only objects in the vast room are wooden casement grids propped against a wall and a pile of dirt next to a metal lid with crude raised letters that read "the way things go."
In the middle room, a deceptively genial man wearing an apron screen-prints white American Apparel t-shirts with slogans like "rich bastards beware" and "behold your future executioners." Stacks of different sizes advertising "fear eats the soul" are ready for purchase at $20 a pop. In the adjoining kitchen space, the performance artist Rirkrit Tiravanija serves spicy pumpkin soup for the suggested price of one dollar (through April 16). He washes dishes at the industrial chrome sink and greets the occasional newcomer, treating the space as an extension of his home. He seems at ease in the role of provider, perhaps because he's done this before (in 1992, and then again in 2007).
What he's doing here falls under the conceptual rubric of "relational aesthetics," whereby an artwork is open-ended, interactive and democratic. But are enough and sufficiently meaningful interactions occurring to sustain this third performance of Tiravanija's "Soupnosoup"? In a recent review, art critic Jerry Saltz applauded the piece's "selflessness." While it's true that the openness of the space mostly does away with any public-private distinction, it seems a stretch to call the exhibition selfless. Serving soup to an art crowd hardly qualifies as shaking things up, especially as this type of artwork has been firmly ensconced in the contemporary art canon for well over a decade—perhaps even since 1971, when Gordon Matta-Clark opened the artist-run restaurant Food in Soho.
Chez Tiravanija, the onus is on the viewer to make the experience worthwhile. The relational artist's job is to bring people together in a space with as few boundaries as possible. On March 16, appropriately, artists Patricia Silva and Eric Clinton Anderson took matters into their own hands when they saw that a car was parked inside the wide-open gallery with keys in the ignition. Taking this as a sign that they were free to take it for a spin, the pair drove around for less than a half hour, then returned to the gallery. Gavin Brown was outside, fuming, thinking his car had been stolen. He later told Saltz, "I suppose in some sense I set up the situation. So I've nothing to complain about." He continued, "But if someone really wanted to do something like this, they should have taken the car for a week, or driven it off the pier." Maybe next time; for now, though, we'll enjoy our soup with the art crowd.
(photos by Glori Linares, courtesy the artist and Gavin Brown's Enterprise)