Last night, I attended the launch of 1@111, a Manhattan-based art salon, hosted in an apartment setting by salonnières Madeline Djerejian and Rachel Gugelberger. The inaugural presenters were Berlin-based curator Berit Fischer and Casino Luxembourg – Forum d’art Contemporain artistic director Kevin Muhlen, who together presented to a small group (over wine and cheese, and incredible homemade edamame dip) their upcoming project "Hlysnan: On the Notion and Politics of Listening."
The invitees included Nathalie Anglès, co-founder and executive director of Residency Unlimited; Mark Tribe, artist, founder of Rhizome and newly-appointed chair of MFA Fine Arts at SVA; and Lauren Rosati, co-curator at ((audience)) and curatorial assistant of modern and contemporary art at the National Academy Museum. If the event is indicative of the quality of the recent salon-type gatherings that have been cropping up around the city, the New York art scene is getting richer, more dynamic and whole lot more intimate. (Please pass the marcona almonds.)
Several of these small alternative events have recently emerged, offering not only a fresh and more convivial way to experience art and exchange ideas, but also a welcome respite from the weekly grind of gallery openings, art fairs, lectures, panel discussions and open studios (not to mention the art market blah blah blah)—all of which gets extremely exhausting. (No wonder Douglas Kelly couldn’t keep up with the very valuable DKS List.)
Some salons are itinerant, with no fixed address. Some meet at bars. Some are invite-only. Some are only by appointment. And while they involve people working in the "approved arts system" in some capacity (Djerejian served as a visiting artist fellow at Newport School of Art Media and Design in Wales; Gugelberger has curated exhibitions at Ballroom Marfa, Exit Art and Artspace New Haven), these new spaces operate outside of the institutional purview.
At last night’s gathering, Fischer and Muhlen treated the assembled guests to something unique: a glimpse inside the curatorial process, which for them is currently a work-in-progress. (Their exhibition opens in May 2014.) Though most of the work is lined up—confirmed artists include Lawrence Abu Hamdan (UK), Daniela Brahm & Les Schliesser (Germany), Clare Gasson (UK), Udo Noll (Germany), Emeka Ogboh (Nigeria), Yoko Ono (US), Susan Schuppli (UK) and Christine Sullivan & Rob Flint (UK)—they are still booking studio visits and figuring out at least one fundamental structural element: what kind of seating, if any, to include in the exhibition.
According to the 1@111 website, the exhibition "emphasizes the conscious act of listening as opposed to that of hearing, or passively perceiving sound." And since there will be a lot of listening, the practical issue of seating poses a challenge. But whether you use folding chairs or make them a part of the overall visual design is just one small aspect of the overarching challenge: How does one present an exhibition about listening—and the representational space of sound—without resorting to visual imagery or the musical references associated with sound art projects?
These types of thorny conceptual questions are par for the course for curators, but for the rest of us, hearing them and, more importantly, being able to give them our own opinions on the matter, is truly a rare occurrence. Indeed, the guests were engaged in a way that they probably wouldn’t be if it had been merely a lecture about a show that was already in the can. It ended up being what I had perceived an art salon to be: dynamic, somewhat unscripted, conversational and most importantly, thought-provoking in ways that the "normal" art institutional infrastructure just can’t deliver.
Of course, salons have a long history, going back at least to the 17th-century Iberian and Latin American tertulia, which brought together a small group of intellectuals for informal discussions about the literary and artistic issues of the day. In the late 18th century, Benjamin Franklin made waves when he attended the decadent grand salons of Paris while serving as the French ambassador. In Germany in the latter half of the 19th century, the Stammtisch (literally, "regulars’ table") was a popular form of unstructured group meeting meant to discuss politics and philosophy, perhaps over a game of skat.
In the early 20th century, the modern New York salon emerged, notably with a salon hosted at the home of Mary Cadwalader Jones on East 11th Street. Jones, who was Edith Wharton‘s sister-in-law and known nationally for her advocacy of nurses, brought together several of the leading artists and intellectuals of the time, such as the writer Henry James, the painter John Singer Sargent and the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
In a 2009 article in Artillery magazine, Los Angeles-based artist Anne Martens reported on domestic art salons cropping up in her neck of the woods:
"’Domestic’ means humanness, and relates to the word ‘interiority.’ That’s intriguing when you think about it, because exhibiting art is such a public thing. I’ve often wondered how people hosting art shows from their homes balance privacy with inviting the spotlight. It looks as though it could be fun, like throwing a party, but it also seems potentially intrusive, not to mention lots of work. Lately, I’ve become obsessed with these spaces. Maybe it’s the thrill of standing on the doorstep of a total stranger’s house, wondering what there is to discover beyond the threshold. Or maybe it’s the built-in comfort when visiting a domestic space I’ve already been to, like hanging out with a good friend who also loves art. Pets, family members, house plants, privacy signs, personal decor—it all adds up to a subjective context opposite the hermetic air of a typical gallery. There’s an irresistible ambience to domestic settings that belie serious intent."
Martens may want to book a trip to New York if she hasn’t done so lately to check out a new crop of intimate art gatherings. In addition to 1@111, there’s The Canal Series, an "occasional evening at Canal and West Broadway" organized by curator Summer Guthery (in April, she presented a short film and a reading "with drinks and discussion," bien sur).
Across the river, there’s Bunker259, an appointment-only space that presents a single artwork in conjunction with a text, meant to provide artists and writers with "a platform and outlet for collaboration." Their website notes that "the purpose of the appointment is to foster an intimate and focused viewing experience." And of course, "light refreshments will always be served."
Ad Hoc Vox is a not-for-profit started by Colleen Asper and Jennifer Dudley and envisioned as an "ongoing series of discussions and events without a fixed location that addresses a wide range of issues in contemporary art." Their last event—an "evening of films and discussions" at 16 Beaver Group in the Financial District—looked at "cinema as a springboard to collectively redefine the meanings and tactics of strike in response to the international call for a General Strike on May 1st, which in New York has also been named A Day Without the 99%."
And then there’s the nebulous #ArtSalonSunday, which recently rounded up Lisa Schroeder, founder of Schroeder Romero, and Todd Florio, the digital communications director of Creative Time, among others, at Big Bar in the East Village.
But of these alternative gatherings, only 1@111 is hosted in a domestic setting. I have a feeling that there will be more to come in New York. We experience art in a personal way. What could be more personal than experiencing it where we live?
Jonathan Jones, who covers art for The Guardian, recently asserted that New York is "still the capital of art world cool." Citing a "mix of high and low coming out of New York [that] recalls the city’s energy in the 1980s…or the 1960s," Jones, a 2009 Turner Prize juror, declared, "The greatest art of the modern world belongs to New York. The art of this century is finding its way home."
As 1@111 so warmly proved last night, home is where the art is.