Articles by

<Paddy Johnson>

10/09/13 4:00am

eila Gueramian, JFeel, via allegra laviola

My introduction to Jeila Gueramian’s Let’s Go Further at Allegra LaViola (through October 12) was at a dinner inside the gallery. People were generally excited about the show, and most of us ended up having a little too much to drink—the sort of thing grown-ups do for fun, but done at an exhibition designed for the kid in you; it’s all latch-hook rugs, display boxes with LEDs, and stuffed animal wall hangings. There’s even a play-fort covered in lights.

As it happens, the title of the first work you see, “Not Flawless, but Perfect,” also sums up my assessment of the show. In this exhibition, wonkiness is a joy. The piece itself, an enlarged plush brown microbe with a lighted miniature landscape in its center, introduces the viewer to the idea of the micro and the macro. Stitched on the side of a small barn in the landscape are the words “not flawless.” Imperfection is part of this work’s charm—the artist’s hand is clearly present—but you sense that she wants a partner. The twig-like tentacles of the microbes can be moved by visitors or collectors into different positions. The sculpture even wraps around and disguises its plugs.

That kind of inventiveness proves useful in tackling the show’s dominant theme: play. What defines play, though, may be mutable, as the front hall of the gallery resembles a treasure chest. A series of wide, skinny pedestals in the gallery’s front hall showcase four square boxes with LED trim. Inside one is a tiger hanging from a blossoming tree; in another, a lion with gold antlers is backed by pink fern patterning. Both seem like the kind of thing you might turn on before tucking your kid into bed.

The details are important because you know they’re telling a story, even if you’re not quite sure what it is. That’s why the hanging latch-hook rugs nearby seem weak by comparison. In one, an elephant wraps its tusks around the word “feel”; in another, a panda has “listen” emblazoned on its forehead. Both have LED lights for eyes. They’re pretty funny, but it’s hard to shake the impression that the iconography and lights could just as easily end up on a hipster T-shirt. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but because I get the sense that Gueramian doesn’t share that consumer-group’s interest in irony, some may find it confusing.  
The problem with these works in particular (beyond the obvious issue of working with objects charged with nostalgia) may lie in the text, which often seems imposed upon the animal instead of anthropomorphizing it in some way. The stuffed animals nearby more easily draw associations with human gestures and forms—and are better for it. A set of stuffed antlers hanging near the back of the gallery looks like a pair of arms ready to hug a viewer. It’s adorable. You want to hug it back. A colorful lobster nearby has enough ornamentation around an orifice on its back that it resembles an aroused vagina. It’s hilarious. You want to touch it.

In each case, it’s the animal’s relationship to the viewer’s body that makes the work more appealing—like you’re not alone. That’s perhaps nowhere more important than in the back gallery, which houses a fort within a garden of crocheted flowers, and a blue pool constructed out of lights. Inside, there are plenty of cushions to sit on, which visitors can do while watching a custom animation of a cartoon alien ship. It’s meant to be used by groups.

It’s undoubtedly the coolest fort I’ve ever been in, and a lot of that has to do with the sheer craziness of the stuff she’s surrounded it with. None of these objects exhibit machine-crafted precision, and they’re not beautiful in any traditional sense of the word. That’s what makes them perfect.

09/25/13 4:00am

Photos courtesy

The first photography auction was at Swann Galleries in 1952: “Photography: A panoramic history of the art of photography as applied to book illustration, from its inception up to date.” (It’s often referred to as “the Marshall Sale” because the items up for auction came from the collection of Albert E. Marshall.) The full title is a little long for my taste, but I like that it tells potential customers exactly what they can buy. Compare this to the Christie’s auction “First Open: New Media,” a new online-only exhibition that runs until 10am on October 4 and explores the ways artists have placed technology and digital media “at the forefront of artistic innovation.” The catalog goes on, “The photograph serves not only as the single most important catalyst in our age of New Media, but also one of its most dynamic components.”

Ok, so the auction’s title doesn’t tell us much about its focus on photography, but we can assume that the artists will be photographers whose work can carry the new-media mantle, right? That is, that these artists manipulate technologies to create new work (like Henry Fox Talbot, a noted photographer who invented the calotype process, or Man Ray, a painter best known for reinventing the process of solarization in photographs), as opposed to “digital artists” (like Thomas Ruff, who digitally manipulates landscape photographs), which just use technology as a tool.

But no! “First Open: New Media” includes works like a black-and-white photograph of a young woman by William Eggleston, an untitled Gregory Crewdson color coupler print picturing some kind of fruit, and an untitled Rodney Graham print of an upside-down tree. Art-fair staple Julian Opie actually looks out of place in this collection, as his figurative animations are presented on LCD screens. Basically, it’s a lot of digital art and photographs shoved under the heading of new media, presumably because it has a sexier name and connotes online activity. (That’s important because, with this online-only sale, the company’s looking to compete with web-based auction platforms like Paddle8.)

None of this sits well with me. The world of new media isn’t so confusing that people have started calling Nam June Paik a digital artist. (He’s known as a new-media artist known for his work manipulating televisions, radios and other circuits.) Christie’s’ mistakes are lazy. Plenty of new-media sales could succeed with some smart marketing copy and a strong sales team. That’s what expands a market. This effort muddles definitions and will only confuse collectors.

09/11/13 4:00am

Photo courtesy Transfer Gallery

What’s the hottest arts space in Bushwick? For my money, it’s Transfer, a gallery that focuses on artists who live in the digital world and make work in the physical. Since founding it six months ago, owners Kelani Nichole and Jereme Mongeon have launched shows that have included hundreds of gifs, large-scale digital prints, poetry readings, and wall-sized paintings of computer desktops. They have a show opening October 12 with Rollin Leonard, a figurative artist known for the digital disassemblage of his own body. Also, from November 1-2, Transfer will act as The Wrong New Digital Art Biennale’s AFK-Embassy in NYC. Given all this activity, I thought it was an appropriate time to chat with cofounder Nichole.

Why did you two found Transfer?
It grew out of some work I had been doing with Little Berlin, the collective I was part of in Philadelphia, and specifically that last exhibition, >get>put ( The folks I was working with really expressed gratitude for the opportunity to come together in physical space. It was clear that there was a real need for this kind of stuff.

When I moved to New York City, I was looking for opportunities to continue the independent curatorial work I had been doing. So I started looking on Craigslist for space. It was a confluence of factors: the desire to continue the curatorial work, finding the right space at the right moment. It was being totally renovated so there was three months to plan! Through our partnership—Jereme and I both work full time—we had the ability to make an investment.  

A lot of the artists you’ve shown make work that has a tangible relationship with both the digital and the physical. Is that a focus for the gallery?
Yes. In general we’re hoping to expand the notion of what net art is; it’s not so limiting as “based on the Internet.” There’s a more expansive view that involves those physical manifestations. Now that we’re six-months-old, we’re consciously trying to focus the networked practice.

What’s a networked practice?
When Jereme and I started to talk about net art, he always used Travess Smalley as an example. “How is Travis a net artist? Show me the stuff that he’s done that’s net art.” And he has done some browser-based work, but his practice now has evolved into much more physical work. His work first of all depends on digital tools and processes, but the networked part of it is the way that he reacts to others on the network and engages in dialogue. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the output of the work, and I feel like that’s one of the limiting perceptions around net art.

Is there a cynical interpretation of that network—“like, okay, that’s who your friends are”—or is a network more about your influences?
I think there’s definitely a cynical reading of that, and it’s a criticism that flies around all the time. The more interesting side of [the network] is how artists react to each other’s work and the aesthetics that follow. The relationships are a very visible part of it, and they’re not something we shy away from. We think they’re important.

I’ve noticed you do a lot for artist’s shows (catalogue, talks, openings and closings). It’s a more robust presentation of an artist’s work than I’m used to seeing.

Pretty much everyone we work with has a multifaceted practice. So, Lorna Mills curates a whole group of artists into her closing. A Bill Miller, who’s an academic, putting together a whole history of the genre he’s working within. We’re interested in people who want to do more than just a show.

Their practice is typically more distributed than just what’s on the walls. So, we get people to write about the work, some people are interested in doing online components and we try to do a reception or an event, aside from the opening that can re-engage people with the work. Carla Gannis and Justin Petropolous are doing weekly events with their show!

We want to do more pop-up events. We just did our first one with Zoe Salditch and it went really well. So I think that’s another way we’re going to open ourselves up to collaboration.

08/14/13 4:00am

To form an opinion about Thomas Hirschhorn’s GRAMSCI MONUMENT, you only have to hear about it. In my first significant conversation about the project, a curator friend lit up as she excitedly told me Hirschhorn would host a daily lecture by philosopher Marcus Steinweg for the residents of Forest Houses, a housing project in the Bronx. Whatever the rest of the work was about, I instantly had concerns. The value of imposing scholarship on a group that would likely have few means of interpreting it seemed limited at best. After all, wouldn’t such alienating lectures do more to discourage people from self-education than encourage it?

Even after I visited, that question lingered, but the monument itself, commissioned by DIA, does a good job of bringing diverse communities together. In early May, the President of the Resident Association of Forest Houses, Erik Farmer, approved the public work and residents began construction. A staff member told me that Forest Houses was the only housing project in the city to approve it.

The temporary structure (up through September 15) is basically a taped together community center that resembles a sprawling tree house. It’s situated in the courtyard and includes a library, education center, stage, (dry) bar, newspaper room, and radio station, almost all of which were in use when I visited. For art’s part, the stairs, couches, and shelves were covered with brown packing tape, a Hirschhorn trademark; he has famously transformed galleries with the material for years. And of course, Hirschhorn’s longstanding interest in philosophy and Gramsci show up, taking the form of plaques, quotes on banners, and his frequent collaborator, the philsopher Marcus Steinweg. Even Gramsci’s personal affects from prison—a hairbrush and a pair of shoes among them—are given vitrines.

I suspect the sense of ownership that comes with community construction has something to do with the general vibe of the monument; there wasn’t a soul who didn’t want to chat, whether or not I invited it. “I’m Stan the Man!” one friendly staff member told me, introducing himself as I walked by. He worked the bar, which was a particularly active site for conversation. A bunch of us spent a while talking about where we were from and how cheap the food they were serving was. (Three bucks for a plate of rice and fried fish is a good deal!)

There’s probably no good way to say this, but the reason I enjoyed this conversation (and countless others) was simply because I was having it. I’ve lived across from Lafayette Gardens in Brooklyn for 11 years, and it takes quite a bit to get the white people to talk to the black people. I harbor a reasonable amount of white liberal shame for this, so it was a relief to spend some time in a place where some of that racial tension was eased, even if the guilt isn’t.

This would probably make Antonio Gramsci happy. The philosopher and onetime leader of the Italian Communist Community in the 1920s believed that while hegemony may be impossible to escape, we could foster counter-hegemonies. Anyone can improve his or her quality of life through self-organization and self-education. It’s impossible to say if Hirschhorn achieved this, but there was at least more activity on the site than there was before.  

Whether that has anything to with philosophy, though, is questionable. The library was empty, and a worker running a lawn mower nearby the lecture I attended made it difficult to hear Steinweg’s already impenetrable talk about criticism. Hirschhorn has to know that these lectures, which take place outside and by nature aren’t easily accessible, wouldn’t be absorbed well by many in the audience.

Still, as I left the site, I turned back to get a last look at a hand-painted banner hung across a constructed overpass: “Destruction is difficult. It is as difficult as creation.” (Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks). I assumed the quote spoke to hegemony and the difficulty it takes to dismantle it, but whatever the case, it seemed unlikely many people would interpret it that way. Mostly I thought of the quote as a reminder that come September 15, the monument will be dismantled, and the conversation will stop.

07/31/13 4:00am

What does a biennial look like when it’s run by a group of businessmen and politicians? If Denver’s Biennial of the Americas (July 16-September 2) is any indication, like some awful, biennial-length franken-conference in the service of multinational corporations. Art, when it was given a place at all, was used primarily as a branding tool for the event; it’s not surprising then that it has little to offer art lovers or businesspeople. Even the Biennial’s expressed aims—idea exchange, and looking to booming economies in the north and south—weren’t achieved.

In the inaugural discussion forum “Unleashing Human Potential,” the only time anyone looked to the north was when Google’s Eric Schmidt observed that some snow was melting up in Canada, and that might reveal new sources of revenue. He later proclaimed that poverty would be eliminated thanks to mobile devices, and he cited The Huffington Post as a publishing model that might one day help writers get paid. (The Huffington Post does not pay most of its writers!)

Needless to say, I left that panel praying that the exchange of ideas would stop, and the Biennial did its best to make sure that it would. Whereas most such exhibitions would host contemporary art that could spark exchange, this one blew its resources on high-profile panelists like the Daily Beast’s Tina Brown and the Huffington Post’s Arianna Huffington. Art was so clearly an afterthought that half the audience had already left “Unleashing Human Potential” before we were told we should sit back down because the organizers had forgotten to announce the cultural programming.

That was a missed opportunity. Denver’s art community, while not yet mature, is growing and ready for the kinds of challenges a national event can bring. The Biennial commissioned only four architectural pieces, two small art shows, and a smattering of billboards across the city. For context, Prospect One, the widely lauded 2008 biennale in New Orleans, showcased the work of 81 artists in 24 venues across the city while offering an array of cultural and educational programs to the local community.
Though underfunded, the art program has its moments. The citywide billboard project curated by Paul Andersen, Carsen Chan, Gaspar Libedinksy, and Cortney Stell is probably the most successful, as it requires people to tour Denver in packs. You get to know the city, which is enjoyable. I spent the better part of a day looking for all 31 of these commissions, each by artists well-known (Michael Snow, Julieta Aranda) and emerging (Amalia Ulman).

Daniel Jackson’s “Respect the Moustache” was among the strongest, a colorful digital collage of the city’s horse statues now with Photoshopped unicorn horns and hovering over a long strip of car shops, motels and fast-food restaurants. It’s a simple subversion of an overtly masculine symbol, and I liked that even visitors could easily recognize the altered statues. It will have meaning for everyone.

That’s likely not the case for Corina Copp’s, whose text looks like it’s half written in HTML and reads like sexualized broken poetry. “I want to be alone.>> <>Please no dogs. Please no dogs. <>” Text like this is hard to read, let alone read on a billboard, which is designed to be glanced at quickly.

Far more annoying though is the small text on the side of the poster that advertises the Biennial of the Americas. Normally, I wouldn’t take much issue with this—I’ve never bought the idea that art on billboards subverts advertising, because it’s such good advertising for itself—but in the context of the Biennial of the Americas, the ad rubbed me the wrong way. Organizations invested in the arts don’t slap advertising all over their art, because most artists don’t want their message co-opted for a brand. For all their so-called interest in “idea exchange,” somehow the Biennale of the Americas failed to talk to the artists and curators long enough to learn that.

Photo c/o Biennial of the Americas

07/17/13 4:00am

About this time of year, recent MFA graduates start to panic: they’re out of school, they don’t have a job, and they can’t afford a studio because they’re expected to spend at least a year working free internships before anyone will pay them. Increasingly, I find myself answering students’ questions about how to land a job, much less start a career, in the arts. Here’s what I tell them:

Your only job is looking for a job. Tell everyone you know you’re looking for a job. You can do this in a mass email, but you should also send out personal emails. A human touch is nice. Don’t be afraid to send out unsolicited job inquiries. I got my first job at a gallery by blindly sending out personal emails to more than 200 galleries. Canvassing the job market works. (Don’t phone to follow up on an email conversation unless you’ve been invited to do so. It’s skeevy.)

Tell people what you’re good at and what kind of job you want. This gets easier as you gain more work experience, but early on it’s perfectly acceptable to say you’re looking for an entry-level position in the arts, and that your skill set includes knowledge of specific software or knowledge of specific materials, knowledge of specific power tools, additional languages, communication skills, aptitude with numbers, whatever.

The best jobs are often the ones that come from the referrals. For that reason, listserves are your best friend. I get more solid referrals from these emails than all of the public listings I use combined.

Public listings services work too. You should be scouring,,,,,,,, and Craigslist (if you’re looking for an unpaid job).

Use keywords to set up Google alerts for the types of jobs you’d like to be working. Your first job will probably suck. But it’ll still provide valuable experience and contacts. For example, when I first moved to New York, I spent four years working administrative jobs in galleries. I was horrible at it, and was glad to give the job up when I started writing. That experience, though, repeatedly proves useful when writing about galleries. I’ve also worked with scores of people from those days I thought I’d never see again because the art world is small and the talent pool diverse.

Quit worrying about whether your day job will affect your chances of representation and your studio practice. The answers to these questions don’t matter when you can’t pay your rent. What’s more, it often takes a good five years to figure out what you’ll be doing professionally anyway. Get a job, then get
a better job.

07/03/13 4:00am

I judge JPEGs all day. You probably do, too, using them to make decisions about what to eat, what to see, and what to buy. But in the case of art—which we’re often told we need to see in person—how much of our IRL experience can we replace with online viewing? That decision has to be made on a case-by-case basis, but there’s a good deal of work that loses its life in reproduction.

That’s why I made a special point to take my friend to the Ken Price show (at the Met through September 22), an exhibition that’s been (rightly) raved about; in reproduction, it just looks like a collection of MoMA Design Store knickknacks.  This disjunction between reproduction and the object is immediately evident in Price’s show, which begins with the sculpture used in all its ads. “Pastel” (1995) is a round green sea creature-like ceramic piece from which Price has removed a small square to reveal its red insides. The colors vibrate.

It’s hard to explain the difference between seeing the ad and seeing the sculpture in the museum, but in person, it’s one of those rare pieces that looks so precisely made that you can’t imagine it in any other form. “Big Load,” a nearby blue blob the color of an old sock, is similarly cut open. In this case, the removed piece reveals  a yellow center with a hollow black core, which fucks with your spatial perception: I spent several minutes trying to figure out whether the black hole was actually a three-dimensional cube.

The sculptures—62 in total—were incredibly satisfying, but the installation wasn’t. Images of the show itself were nowhere to be found on the website, and it’s not hard to see why—the sculptures were mostly on pedestals pushed against the walls; the rest were relegated to enormous and garish vitrines located in the center of the room. They had no relationship to their mounts, and they often looked misplaced. That’s a problem with the show probably no amount of photography can fix—even the Times photos look awkward—so in this case, images neither communicate the power of the work nor the exhibition space.

Compare this to Lorna Mills’s exhibition The Axis of Something at Transfer Gallery over in Bushwick (through July 13), which handles the problems of installation and reproduction more effectively. Mills’s show, too, must be seen in person, which is unusual for shows by most artists working in digital media. Part of this has to do with the importance of color in the exhibition’s handmade prints. The bulk of the show is made up of these works, which depict groupings by animal species—dogs, unicorns, and deer—each gridded, printed out, and glazed on computer paper. Each time I see them, I’m pretty sure the hues have changed (and thanks to the paper quality, I suspect I’m not wrong).

The rest of the exhibition is made up of an array of gifs on different types of screens: a man with huge saline-injected balls fucking who-knows-what while surrounded by blooming flowers; a tower of moving map gifs for frequent fliers. These two works were on wall-mounted flat screens. Any number of these pieces could be seen online, but connecting the movement of, say, the gif tower with the reflective light depicted in the dog mural isn’t going to happen on your computer.

The front page of Transfer’s website won’t make those connections for you, but it does one better: it gets you out to see the show. On the site, a short video loop shows the bottom of some hung-up papers moving gently in the wind. It doesn’t seem like much, but it made me want to head out and see the show again. It’s those small, changing details that can’t be reproduced.

06/19/13 4:00am

If you work in the art world, your life probably looks pretty good from the outside. You spend a lot of time traveling around the world for art events, and a lot of your job is simply thinking about art and talking about it with celebrities and museum directors. Many of us like to puff up how exciting the life is—ArtInfo has an entire series dedicated to tracking the art world’s high times on Instagram, and ArtForum has a style-and-gossip column called Scene and Herd. Even if you don’t get paid that much, the experiences are priceless. But just how glamorous is all this travel, really? Not nearly as much as you might think.

At the time of this writing, many art worlders are at Art Basel in Switzerland, the world’s largest art fair. I was probably too poor to have tried to attend the last time I did, which was in 2009; despite having already left the US and paid for my travel, I had no money to book a hotel. As a result, I found myself on a train from Venice to Basel with no place to stay. In the end, a friend of a friend of a friend let me stay in a camper parked behind a prison in Little Basel. I showered where my acquaintance worked—in the oncology wing of a hospital, just in front of the prison.

That trip wasn’t particularly glamorous, and to be fair, the experience was almost certainly less glamorous than that of most journalists. Still, even the best of us get paid next to nothing and often end up huddling in the champagne rooms at Art Fairs, gossiping about the muffins we smuggled out of our free continental breakfasts.

The art-fair experience isn’t always so great for dealers and curators, either. As one friend aptly described the job, it’s “traveling all over the world to stare at virtually the same walls in the same booths in the same convention centers while experiencing no culture from where you actually are. You could be in Basel, Brussels, London, Paris, Cologne, Miami, Dubai or Hong Kong, and you barely notice. Some of us also have the misfortune of working in said booths alone and not being able to pee for 12 hours.”

That’s not exactly a perk, and neither are the tiny budgets most of us are forced to work within while traveling. Among the horror stories I’ve heard, one curator told me that after fronting personal money to cover the hotel, flight, food, and some artists’ costs, the exhibition-venue announced that it had used the money set aside in the budget to cover its own costs. It took six months to recoup several thou-
sand euros.

I have my own stories about flying thousands of miles and not getting paid, but they’re not my worst. In 2008, after having flown to Miami and New Orleans for the Prospect 1 Biennale, I spent several hours at the New Orleans airport waiting for a storm to clear so I could make a studio visit in Lisbon. By the time I arrived, I’d missed my connecting flight to Amsterdam and was put up in a hotel by the airline. My bags were checked, so I ended up sleeping naked and putting my dirty clothes on again in the morning.

When I arrived in Amsterdam, the connecting flights were a mess thanks to weather, and after a six-hour layover I managed to miss my plane to Portugal. I had been waiting at the wrong gate. An agent announced I would need to pay a rebooking fee, and I burst into tears, knowing I had no money to pay the fee. “What’s wrong with you?” she demanded. I explained through sobs that I was broke, approaching day three at airports, and still wearing the same clothes. She took pity and rebooked the flight free of charge.

My arrival in Portugal did not lift my fortunes. My bags were lost in transit, leaving me to sleep in my clothes for yet another night. (All this, just to visit an artist’s studio!) When I woke up, I showered and asked the wife of the artist with whom I was staying if I could borrow a T-shirt. “Maybe you need more? Pants?” she asked. I nodded briskly. “Underwear?” she added. I nodded again, tearing up. She gave me everything I needed. As I put her underwear on though, I felt something sticky between my legs. It was my period, and for the last time that trip, I burst into tears.

Image courtesy

05/22/13 4:00am

Hard living is sexy. It embodies rugged individualism and freedom. It involves long nights and gnarly mornings. It probably requires a big dick (or at least acting like it’s big). In short, it’s punk rock, and it’s a cultural phenomenon that touched most aspects of living in New York and London, particularly in the mid- to late-70s.

It makes sense, then, that the Metropolitan Museum of Art would choose to explore punk as a subculture—lots of people can relate to it. What makes less sense is that curator Andrew Bolton decided to focus solely on punk’s influence on couture, an art form that has little to say about the movement. To that end, he’s transformed the museum’s special exhibitions wing into what looks like a high-end SoHo shop. Room after room of rows of mannequins, each dressed in 1970s to present-day fashion, produce a kind of homogenized aesthetic no punk would endorse.

To be fair, exhibition has its own allure. Two mannequins wearing blackened fluffy wigs and bright-red punk couture stand on either side of a vertical screen, on which stars like Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten perform silently. It’s the show’s first installation, and it sparkles with the kind of newness that makes you want to buy whatever it is the Met’s selling.

One room in, we learn it’s the lore of a pain-stakingly recreated 70s-era bathroom at CBGB’s. That story is hardly told, though. Viewers can read a label explaining that the punk scene in New York began to develop at this music venue and bar, which hosted such bands and musicians as Richard Hell, the Ramones, and Patti Smith. One installation later, we’re looking at more mannequins in wigs. We also see a recreation of Vivienne Westwood and Sex Pistol bandmember Malcolm McLaren’s London boutique SEX. As the wall labels tell it, the store is largely responsible for bringing modern punk into the mainstream, but the installation doesn’t function any differently than an image in a catalog. We see a rack with a lot of T-shirts on it, one with an image of blue tits on the front, another with two drawings of men, one without his pants on. Viewers can’t go through the clothes rack themselves, though, so the installation offers little more than a floor plan to the information provided on the wall label.

The rest of the exhibition is divided into four sections organized by do-it-yourself processes. DIY Hardware presents a hallway of ridiculous gowns. Huge gold safety pins hold together a black Versace dress, providing a prime example of punk-gone-rich. The only thing rude or aggressive about this is its garish display of wealth, as much of punk’s aesthetic came out of poverty. Two Zandra Rhodes gowns filled with tasteful holes ribbed with zippers suffer from the same problem, but they’re nothing compared to the Dolce & Gabbana nonsense at the end of the hall. It’s a fluffy black chiffon dress complete with a lock-and-key chastity belt. It’s unclear what influence punk had on this garment, if any.

DIY Bricolage, a room of fashion that resembles Duchamp readymades, is the strongest in the show. In the far corner, there’s a paper bag T-shirt dress, a dress in the shape and materials of an envelope, and a plastic bag bodysuit; each are defined by Maison Martin Margiela’s inventiveness with materials. Even the dress made of cellophane looked sexy enough to make me want to wear it. Granted, he’s no Alexander McQueen—the Met may never top that 2011 show—but he’s an essential inclusion in what might otherwise be a boring show. Here, even McQueen falls flat; his famed splatter painting dress, shown just two years ago, has no life in part because the show fails to include the video that shows its making. The video though, might reveal the truth; punk didn’t influence the making of this dress much. It just happens to fit in the room dubbed “DIY: Graffiti/Agit Prop.”

The final room, DIY Destroy, is the most disappointing. A dress by Comme Des Garçons attaches a stuffed, snail-shaped piece of fabric to the crotch of a coat dress. It’s ornate but doesn’t exactly breathe the inventiveness-from-necessity for which punk became known. Another coat by the same designer is transformed by piles of other coats sewn onto it. It smacks of work produced by someone burdened by a looming deadline.

Overhead, Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus rings out, complete with horns and a choir. It’s the first time we hear music in the show, and in keeping with its missteps, it tells us little about punk.

Richard Hell, late 1970s Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph © Kate Simon

05/08/13 4:00am

“It’s going to be a floating cube in the middle of the space,” MonkeyTown founder Montgomery Knott told me breathlessly. He was describing MonkeyTown 3.0, a video-curation project that invites viewers to dine while watching art. After seven years at an on again-off again venue in Williamsburg, Knott’s project will now take over Eyebeam every summer evening beginning June 13.

For those of us who fondly remember the old venue, this is good news. MonkeyTown has many extraordinary qualities but perhaps the most obvious is the stellar production. An 8.1 surround-sound system combined with four 16-foot walls and food service doesn’t exist anywhere else in the city. (This time, chefs include those from Roberta’s, La Superior, Nha Toi, and Gramercy Tavern.)

MonkeyTown is also renowned for its curation. Knott’s “best of” video program, which he has cocurated with Maggie Lee, will feature 21 videos. The centerpiece, Knott says, will be Eve Sussman and Simon Lee’s 12-minute recreation of an artwork by Jack + Leigh Ruby, whose art—selling insurance scams—took them to jail in the 1970s.

What will MonkeyTown 3.0 look like?
We’re going to have a really basic kitchen. The actual cube is now totally closed. It’s all going to be seamless and protected. It’s going to be bigger this time: 19 ft. vs. the old 12 ft. During the day, Eyebeam will be active. It will be dark. Blackness. No spotlight; just lit by the projections. There will be candles on the table.

I like the way you broke down the ticket price on the website: $80 = $5 admission + $45 food + $20 drinks + $10 tip. It’s important, because $80 seems like a lot.
It’s true, but it’s a bargain; $80 sounds like a lot to me because I’ve been poor for the last two years. Before coming here right now, I sold clothing to pay for the envelopes I needed to send out invitations tomorrow. That’s how poor I am. So I wanted it to be accessible, one night where we probably weren’t making much money at all. That’s the $45 night [on Sundays].

Have the chefs seen the artwork?
I said to all of them that the whole point is the video and the art. Food is there almost to sell the video. It should be awesome and tasty and wonderful, but I don’t want any crazy platings or whatever. It should be unpretentious plating.

You don’t want the food to compete with the art.
Exactly. I said, there can be one intervention between the food and what you’re seeing. But it can only happen once, because if it happens twice, it gets too precious.

So, why this year?
It was two years ago, within six months of MonkeyTown closing, that I had the idea
that maybe I would do it again in some other way. [Graphic designer] Phillip Niemeyer helped me put together a scale model of what this project would look like. It’s actually in the trailer. During the three-month residency in France, I finished my film. I knew from the minute I got back in September that I just had to hustle to get something ready for this summer. And Eyebeam became a perfect fit, and they were super psyched. They’re not charging me rent; they’re just taking a cut of the revenue.

How important is it that people be quiet?
I’m going to be there every night, and I’m going to make an announcement. I’m not going to say don’t do this or don’t that, but this isn’t a party. I don’t want to control the audience, and I think it’s fine for there to be horrible nights where someone gets drunk and dominates. I’m used to that sort of failure.