Studio 231 was a two-year temporary project focused on the creation of new works. The New Museum inaugurated the series of commissioned projects in October 2011 in the Museum’s adjacent, ground-floor space at 231 Bowery with a new installation and performances by Spartacus Chetwynd. This was followed by exhibitions by Enrico David, Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg, Haroon Mirza, Nari Ward, and other artists. The initiative gave international, emerging artists the opportunity to realize ambitious new works conceived especially for the space. These projects at Studio 231 also fostered new relationships between the artists and the public by allowing artists to create work outside the confines of the main museum building and in closer proximity to the energy of the street and to the creative space of the artist’s studio.
Nari Ward’s installation Amazing Grace was installed in an abandoned firehouse at 301 West 141st Street in Harlem from September to December 1993. The work is composed of 280 abandoned strollers (collected by the artist from the streets of his neighborhood) surrounded by a field of flattened fire hoses. It is accompanied by a recording of gospel singer Mahalia Jackson singing “Amazing Grace,” suffusing the installation with an uplifting and reverential tone. The objects, in various states of disrepair, speak of the lives of the children they once carried as well as their appropriation by the homeless men and women who would utilize them to transport their own scavenged possessions. Amazing Grace captures the sense of loss, adaptation, and hopefulness that characterized Ward’s experience of New York City in 1993. In addition, it reflects the dynamic, shifting urban landscape of its time and preserves the complexity of a community, neighborhood, and city undergoing profound change.
“Adhocracy” explores a new direction in contemporary design through twenty-five projects—presented through artifacts, objects, and films. In the place of standardized, industrialized perfection, the exhibition embraces imperfection as evidence of an emerging force of identity, individuality, and nonlinearity in design. As design welcomes the new technologies of the information age, the field itself is being reshaped. Some have built their practice around the collaborative ideology of the open source movement; others explore the opportunities opened up by new low-cost fabrication technologies. Some are exploring new economic models of production; others are challenging the established hierarchies between designers and end-users.
“Preoccupied Waveforms” is the first New York solo show by the artist Haroon Mirza. Mirza uses simple industrial materials to radically transform the perceptual experience of architectural space. Over the past ten years, Mirza has deployed a range of analog and digital devices to create dynamic compositions of sound and light. His performances, kinetic sculptures, and immersive installations have made him one of the most celebrated young international artists working today. Mirza was the recipient of both the 2010 Northern Art Prize in the United Kingdom and the Silver Lion Award for most promising young artist at the 54th Venice Biennale (2011).
“The Parade: Nathalie Djurberg with Music by Hans Berg” is Djurberg’s most ambitious multimedia installation to date. Originally organized by the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Djurberg has adapted this spectacular installation for the New Museum’s Studio 231 space. In the hands of Swedish artist Nathalie Djurberg, animation becomes a medium for transgressive and nightmarish allegories of desire and malcontent. Since 2001, she has honed a distinctive style of filmmaking, using the pliability of clay to dramatize our most primal urges—jealousy, revenge, greed, submission, and gluttony. Set to music and sound effects by her collaborator, Hans Berg, Djurberg’s videos plumb the dark recesses of the mind, drawing sometimes disturbing connections between human psychology and animal behavior. Increasingly, the artists’ interdisciplinary collaborations have blurred the cinematic, the sculptural, and the performative in immersive environments that pair moving images and musical compositions with related set pieces.
Over the past twenty years, Enrico David has produced a body of work encompassing painting, drawing, sculpture, and collage that draws upon a rich variety of sources and expresses a range of complex emotional states. Although his work is highly celebrated throughout Europe—the artist was among the nominees for the 2009 Turner Prize, for example—David’s work has rarely been exhibited in the United States. The figures populating David’s work convey the struggle of adaptation, both physical and psychological, of the self and of the image. In his art, we see haunting, incomplete, and sometimes grotesque characters fighting against and merging into backgrounds comprising a personal lexicon of forms. These patterns are derived from craft, folk art, and twentieth-century design, as well as advertising, techniques of display, fashion, and art historical moments. Previously, David choreographed his figurative works to imply dramatic narratives, at times using the exhibition space as a stage. His exhibitions function as performances of self-analysis constructed and theatricalized specifically for public display. Through David’s highly personalized iconography, the works act as mirrors, reflecting viewers’ desires, fears, and vulnerabilities. In David’s more recent work, the implications and strands of psychological tension are enacted within a more formalized, image-based corporeality.
Spartacus Chetwynd’s installation and series of performances, which took place in the new exhibition space at 231 Bowery as part of the Studio 231 program, made this her first American museum exhibition. Chetwynd uses a variety of historical theatrical forms, from Brechtian drama to puppet shows, often within the same performance. The result is an experience that is accessible, humorous, and disorienting. Chetwynd initially studied anthropology and uses the idea of bricolage as both a physical practice and the organizing principle to bring together the disparate images and characters within her work. The carnivalesque world she creates is one in which figures like Emperor Nero, Mae West, Karl Marx, and Jabba the Hutt can comfortably—if not peacefully—coexist. The informality of Chetwynd’s performances and the effortless mix of high and low sources make them remarkably democratic spaces for exploring ideas about history, class, and contemporary culture. For instance, her recent exhibition at Sadie Coles HQ, London, titled “Odd Man Out,” invited viewers to enter a carefully choreographed world in which every decision they made had a range of political consequences.
Generous support for Studio 231 is provided by Ellyn and Saul Dennison, Mitzi and Warren Eisenberg, Susan and Leonard Feinstein, Hermine and David Heller, Lietta and Dakis Joannou, Toby Devan Lewis, and the Board of Trustees of the New Museum.
Additional support for programming at Studio 231 is provided, in part, by the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund.