We are there, with "Start!" at the Gershwin Hotel in New York, between the exhibition of Emptiness by Yves Klein in 1958 at Iris Clert Gallery in Paris, and the audition pieces for the Royal Academy of Painting, at the limit between two exhibitions that are diametrically opposed. Indeed, "Start!", which is inaugurating the collaboration of Modern Culture and its curator Barry Neuman with the Gershwin Hotel, aims to examine the role of the contemporary painted wall mural.
The walls of the tiny exhibition space adjoining at the hip and budget hotel on 27th Street have been left to three artists or collaborative groups: Art Club 2000, Anna Sew Hoy et Oliver Vernon. The first group makes itself known by a monumental reproduction of the show curator Barry Neuman's signature. They support - if that support is still needed - the prevalent position that the curator enjoys today. Much more than an organizer, the curator has become a sort of chief artist, whose signature alone can constitute a work of art. But any interpretation that is too theoretical would fail to take into account Art Club 2000's sense of humor - the nature of their undertaking was kept from Neuman, who only discovered the surprise of "Untitled (Barry Neuman)" with the rest of the public on the day of the opening. In this way, Art Club 2000 has returned to Warhol's 15 minutes of fame. For Barry Neuman, who is now a part of the Gershwin Hotel's décor, the 15 minutes will last at least as long as his first exhibition here. It will no longer be possible to ingore the fact that he is the director of the new exhibition space.
For Oliver Vernon, notorious DJ from the Brooklyn art scene, this is his first gallery exhibition. His all-over, half-rococo, half-graph, brings a part of his residential borough to the island.
Young expat New Zealander Anna Sew Hoy's work consists of two figurative pieces: "Messed", a flattened cyclist, and "Dunx", a figure that appears partly on the north wall of the gallery and partly on an adjoining column. This is where the image of Emptiness intervenes more acutely. What is interesting about "Dunx" is not so much the pictoral qualities of Sew Hoy's work, but rather the interval between the wall and the column, that which goes unsaid in a painting that attempts effacement. The disappearance of the gesture gives way to a projection of the mind. The exhibition thus gives certain elements of an answer to the question of what mural painting is today, while denying painting in favor of the wall and matter in favor of the motif.
In considering the propositions of the three artists, we must admit that the hand of the painter is no longer at the center of the problem. Much more than in front of wall paintings, we are in front of wall printings, or wall projections. Is the light pixelization of Neuman's signature by Art Club 2000 an illusion of the mind? One could wager no, because the wall, in the realization of this work, actually serves as a screen.
Just as with Anna Sew Hoy's painting, the multiplication of points of view on the same subject and the superimposition of two motifs are a witness to the translation in painting of something other than painting: a vision that belongs to the screen generation. The psychedelic nature that Oliver Vernon strives for in his painting takes us back once again to a work where the idea dominates over realization. A sign of the times, when Basquiat affirmed not so long ago from the other side of Houston street that his work had nothing to do with graffiti: "It's painting and it always was." His painting, born in the streets, was a throwback to what remains of abstract expressionism, thus to the importance of the gesture. The mural painting that Modern Culture at the Gershwin Hotel is displaying admits more of a link with the computer screen than with Basquiat's brush.
We would no more search for the paternity of this exhibition in the first manifestations in the last 60s in France of B.M.P.T. (Buren, Mosset, Parmentier, Toroni) and in in situ conceptual works than in a last radiance of a New York school of painting. It is symptomatic that an exhibition that must call upon works in situ be in this way infused with a high-tech esthetic by low-tech means. Still, Barry Neuman's first curatorial undertaking at the Gershwin Hotel demonstrates his ability to catalyse the modern culture so dear to him. The 27th street site will undoubtedly become an invaluable space for experimentation.
(Translation: April Julich)
Practical informations: "Start!" - wall paintings by Art Club 2000, Anna Sew Hoy, Oliver Vernon (curator: Barry Neuman), Modern Culture at The Gershwin Hotel, June 16-July 26. 3 East 27th Street, New York, New York 10016, tel. +1 212 213 8289, www.bway.net/~modcult .
Christophe Perez is a writer (or journalist) living in Paris.