Exodus VIII: Off the Cloth
March 25 through May 4, 2022
By ANTHONY HADEN-GUEST, April 2022
A dummy draped with an expanse of clothing material put together from woven fishnet and studded with small, seductively glimmery spent bullets caught my eye. Created by Qinza Najm, a Pakistani-born American artist and titled #NoHonorInKilling it was at Off the Cloth, the show of woman’s work which is inaugurating the WhiteBox’s new space at 9 Avenue B. Their fourth space, this. Juan Puntes opened the first WhiteBox in the Starrett Lehigh building at 611 West 26th in September 1998, when there were only a handful of galleries in Chelsea. “We were the first alternative space there,” Puntes says. “We had 7000 square feet on the 14th floor”.
Puntes’ opening show there offered work from other alternative spaces in New York and was followed by one which presented two artists from the blood and guts spilling foursome, Vienna Aktionismus, Herman Nitsch, who died just a week ago, and Gunter Brus. Over the next few years presenting strong artists who were temporarily in the shadows, would be a consistent program. “After them we did Carolee Schneemann and Michael Snow,” Puntes says.
The second WhiteBox was in an underground space at 525 West 26th, and it opened with a show that featured Lawrence Weiner, Barry le Va and William Anastasi. The third was on Broome, where they remained for ten years and the fourth was at 213 East 121st in East Harlem. It was on Broome that Puntes put on a show called Exodus. “It began during the presidency of Donald Trump,” he says “The idea was to celebrate the immigration of artists into New York. We did fifty-five artists from Japan.” Exodus 2 was in East Harlem. “We did Chinese artists, who had been emigres in New York,” he says. “Like Ai WeiWei, Xu Bing and Zhang Hongtu.” And Last Banquet, Zhang Hongtu’s painting, based on the Leonardo da Vinci mural, The Last Supper, centering Chairman Mao, featured in a WhiteBox show commemorating the Tiananmen Square twenty-five years before.
So to Avenue B. “This is the fifth iteration of WhiteBox and the final one,” Puntes says. “We have an 11 year lease." Off the Cloth, which was curated by Puntes and Karen Cordero Reiman, a New York-born, Mexico-based art historian, is a show of thirteen artists. It has the militant edge of most White Box art actions, the edge here militant feminist art practices, and interestingly the show does not recoil from Woman Artist stereotypes, but gleefully embraces them and turns them to advantage, beginning with the in your face fact that each of the artists has made use of textiles, whether as an art material, a political reference point or both.
This also makes Off the Cloth rather a timely show, because making a circuit of the New York art fairs last year a resurgence of craft – no doubt, I think, impelled by the ubiquitous excesses of retro-radical abstraction - could not be missed and craft is central at WhiteBox. Or crafts rather. Yohanna M. Roa, a Colombian New Yorker, cooked a meal during her installation and performance piece The Big Tortilla of Green Time. In the video, G*psies Picnic: The Feast of Those Gone, we see Jodie Lyn-Kee-Chow, a Jamaica-born New Yorker, performing in a dress she put together from store-bought gingham tablecloths, with a basket of fruit on her head. A WhiteHot statement includes the info that the eatables will wind up on her table. In her piece The Road Less Traveled Sandra Eula Lee, a Korean New Yorker, had embedded grapefruit-sized boat compasses onto the toes of her shiny shoes, a move that would surely have been approved by the humor-loving Marcel Duchamp. WM
Anthony Haden-Guest (born 2 February 1937) is a British writer, reporter, cartoonist, art critic, poet, and socialite who lives in New York City and London. He is a frequent contributor to major magazines and has had several books published including TRUE COLORS: The Real Life of the Art World and The Last Party, Studio 54, Disco and the Culture of the Night.
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