Several weeks ago, Urban Omnibus, a production of the Architectural League, profiled the work of Anita Durst, founder of space-repurposing arts organization chashama, which gives artists “space to create” in donated under-used spaces for performance and exhibition and subsidized artist studios. In speaking about chashama’s work, Durst highlighted its greater mission as being based in the incubation of artists in the name of neighborhood enlivening and sustainability. Durst’s intentions for chashama’s spaces are extended and deepened by the show bait and switch, which opened in chashama 461 gallery on Friday
The premise of bait and switch, curated by Chiara Di Lello, is to provide a space that subverts the now-standardized culture of cursory looking by displaying artworks that redirect the viewer’s attention and encourage an engagement attained only by sustained inquiry. While the beginning of the presentational text on the postcard reads “In today’s culture, the average viewer…” the show is interested in neither “today’s culture” nor the “average viewer,” as it creates a series of relationships that comment not on culture or the normalized qualities of viewership, but on the very basic act of developing a personal and enduring relationship with an art object, and extending from that, with a space, an idea or a practice.
The show puts into action exactly what Durst explains as chashama’s ideal, by creating a space that incubates not only the work of local artists, but also invites the city into the gallery by putting many of the features of the city into necessary conversation with each other by means of the art and where the work sends its viewers back into the city with thoughts of what’s possible for New York.
Work such as Olivia Swisher’s Increasingly Problematic: Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner, does what New York does at its best, by creating a conversation that begins in questioning and encourages the viewer to explore the piece, first in pursuit of that question and then for the joy of connective looking, moving between the painting, created by Swisher dancing with paint-covered feet on a sheet of paper, and the contact sheet that displays the stages of the act of making the piece, to explore both the process by which the work was made and the conversation between the piece’s elements.
The work displayed in bait and switch ranges from a clear and presentational subversion of the expectations of the illusive “average viewer” to the show’s strongest pieces which make space for both a singular and unifying experience of looking, where the strength of the piece relies on the viewer’s commitment to an extended engagement with it. This is especially true of Laura Meyer’s wallpapers, which open to an endless recombination of patterns the longer they’re explored,
and of Queena Ko’s Untitled (Stoop Series), which situates a structural refiguring of the discrete features of an iconic New York space and returns the space of the stoop back to its compositional elements, only after it attains the viewer’s attention by means of its familiar subject matter.
bait and switch does for viewers what chashama has done for its artists: it creates the opportunity for the independent generation of expansive ideas, themselves extended by collective inquiry. chashama has sent the artists into the gallery to make a show whose compositional whole makes each piece work harder, and the show sends viewers back out onto 126th street with new ways of looking for the compositional synergy of the city itself.
bait and switch is on view at chashama 461 gallery (461 w. 126th Street) until July 7th, daily from 12-7 and by appointment, with abbreviated hours on July 4th