Friday, November 4, 2016

Site Visit #4 Lauren Rosati - Exit Art, Alternative Histories

2016! The Dirt Palace is getting strategic (making a plan)! 
As part of this process we're visiting some organizations/space that we admire and hope to learn from. 

This post is part of a series of profiles of spaces that we have visited. This project is 
supported by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.

EXIT ART: ALTERNATIVE HISTORIES New York Art Spaces, 1960-2010

Interview with editor Lauren Rosati:
This groundbreaking book—part exhibition catalogue, part cultural history—chronicles alternative art spaces in New York City since the 1960s. Developed from an exhibition of the same name at Exit Art, Alternative Histories documents more than 130 alternative spaces, groups, and projects, and the significant contributions these organizations have made to the aesthetic and social fabric of New York City. Alternative art spaces offer sites for experimentation for artists to innovate, perform, and exhibit outside the commercial gallery-and-museum circuit. In New York City, the development of alternative spaces was almost synonymous with the rise of the contemporary art scene. Beginning in the 1960s and early 1970s, it was within a network of alternative sites—including 112 Greene Street, The Kitchen, P.S.1, FOOD, and many others—that the work of young artists like Yvonne Rainer, Vito Acconci, Gordon Matta-Clark, Ana Mendieta, David Wojnarowicz, David Hammons, Adrian Piper, Martin Wong, Jimmie Durham, and dozens of other now familiar names first circulated.

Through interviews, photographs, essays, and archival material, Alternative Histories tells the story of such famous sites and organizations as Judson Memorial Church, Anthology Film Archives, A.I.R. Gallery, El Museo del Barrio, Franklin Furnace, and Eyebeam, as well as many less well-known sites and organizations. Essays by the exhibition curators and scholars, and excerpts of interviews with alternative space founders and staff, provide cultural and historical context.

At a Glance
Founded: 1982-2012 by Jeanette Ingberman & Papo Colo
Budget: $6mil annually
Staff: 6
Board of Directors: 17
Board of Advisors: 17

Mission: Exit Art is an independent vision of contemporary culture prepared to react immediately to important issues that affect our lives. We do experimental, historical and unique presentations of aesthetic, social, political and environmental issues. We absorb cultural differences that become prototype exhibitions. We are a center for multiple disciplines. Exit Art is a 28-year-old cultural center in New York City founded by Directors Jeanette Ingberman and Papo Colo. It has grown from a pioneering alternative art space into a model artistic center for the 21st century committed to supporting artists whose quality of work reflects the transformations of our culture. Exit Art is internationally recognized for its unmatched spirit of inventiveness and consistent ability to anticipate the newest trends in the culture. With a substantial reputation for curatorial innovation and depth of programming in diverse media, Exit Art is always changing.

Our favorite graffiti in Providence: someone tagged just the word “LIVE”, only to be tagged later by someone else who scrawled “because it lasts a long time”. While there are varying ways to interpret this, as long-term types, we always like think of it as a weird variation of, “if you hang in long enough, you’ll get to see cool things happen. This was our feeling getting to meet with Lauren Rosati to discuss Exit Art and other organizations. Lauren, when we first met her years ago as a young native Rhode Islander, living at AS220 and writing a graduate paper on RI Art Spaces and relational aesthetics is now someone who’s done some of the most extensive and respected research in the field of Alternative Arts Space. What a joy to get to discuss the history of NYC’s changing alternative spaces trajectory with someone who also deeply understands the subtleties and complexity of the Rhode Island arts ecosystem!

Lauren starts out by giving us her quick but elegant overview of the Alternative space movement. She tells us: It has it’s roots in avant-garde 1960’s experimentalism spearheaded by people like Cage and Rauschenberg, concerns around multiculturalism and civil rights, giving a voice to underrepresented people and creative practices. It’s not always about physical space but sometimes takes the form of magazines, nomadic collectives, public art. In recent years it’s become a strategy for navigating space scarcity and arts approaches stunted by the New York money machine.

A thing that was interesting and unique, in the context of our site-visits, about talking to Lauren, was that she could draw on knowledge of a variety of different organizations and talk frankly about how different approaches to a variety of things including transitions panned out. The type of transition that is often the most visible and puts organizations in the most vulnerable places is of course leadership transitions, particularly transitions from founder/directors to a second generation of leadership.  Lauren characterized there as being three basic outcomes of these situations: 1) The organization doesn’t survive. Sometime this is by design - Perhaps the founders/board aren’t particularly interested in seeing it survive beyond themselves for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they recognize that developed projects into their 2nd generation of leadership often require a lot of resources and want to see said resources go into a greater number of scrappy “from the ground up” orgs or spaces. Perhaps there is a block against planning, or just poor planning, perhaps someone dies unexpectedly before there is an opportunity to plan  2) The organization survives but in a new form - perhaps people get fired or retire (sometimes founding leadership), perhaps the mission or programs gets redefined or radically expand in scope, perhaps the institution partners with another organization as a means of survival 3) The organization survives and there’s not a huge noticeable change - No big mission change, programs continue on track and the org goes on doing what it’s set out to do, sometimes with new personalities, visions and approaches, but in general things are relatively peaceful. Examples of situation #1 include Exit Art #2 The New Museum & PS1 #3 Artists Space, Art in General and The Kitchen. When asked if Lauren had any thoughts on why transition worked for the groups in category #3 she offered a couple of thoughts: boards that are professional (not just personal relationships of the ED) and support leadership appropriately, but aren’t afraid to challenge it - correspondingly ED’s who are totally transparent with the board, understanding of the audience for the project, a willingness and interest in “letting go” and letting the project grow outwards beyond the purview and control of the leadership.  

Our conversation about transition led into a discussion of the prevalent yet problematic practice in the arts of not adequately paying people. Skimping on programming or the proper compensation of staff / interns (whether through pay or credit) just doesn’t pay off for the organization in the long haul she warns. An organization is only as good as its programs and the staff that makes them happen!

Our conversation with Lauren covered such a myriad of Arts Spaces in New York.  At risk of sounding like a commercial for the Alternative Histories book, this book is really great -  you should read it!...It’s format, which consists of providing a page long profile of every space with a BIG picture, makes it a great cross-reference compendium to the Julie Ault Alternative Art New York book.

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