May – September 2012
Back in May of 2012, I was invited to attend a dinner by an artist friend of mine, Alyse Ronayne. Ronayne, a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art and current M.F.A. candidate at Bard, was featuring work in conjunction with a new project starting in Brooklyn, centered around the theme of roving feminist exhibitions. The “organization” (I use quotes because the project is in such an early stage of its tenure that even the founders are not sure how to categorize the venture), called Garden Party/Arts (GP/A), is the brainchild of E.E. Ikeler and Ariel Roman, two Brooklynites whose artistic and social proclivities happen to overlap in interesting ways. Ikeler is an astute academic and painter committed to furthering queer dialogue in art, while Roman, who originally hails from Mexico and more recently, the Oakland area, runs an art and design studio called HellaCrisis with her husband that coupled with her role as co-owner of a food truck in California. Together, Ikeler and Roman have conceived a platform that engages both the social and visual idiosyncrasies of art viewing in a way that is intelligent, fresh, and surprisingly accessible: the backyard gardens of friends.
GP/A’s first exhibitional installment was titled HUZZY, its premise based on the canonical essay by David Getsy, “Immoderate Couplings: Transformations and Genders in John Chamberlain’s Work” (in D. Tompkins, ed., It’s All in the Fit: The Work of John Chamberlain, Marfa, Texas: Chinati Foundation, 2009), in which the author offers a transgendered reading of the work of John Chamberlain, specifically referencing one of the artist’s earlier crushed metal sculptures from the 1960s of the same name. Riffing on the slang term for a loose woman (hussy), as well as on Chamberlain’s encoded use of the word as an underlying feminine trope for a body of work typically associated with the über-masculine heroics of the 1960s, Ikeler curated an exhibition of three female artists—Tracy Thomason, Ronayne, and herself—whose approaches were similarly clever, playfully cajoling the viewer into a participation in feminist critique, albeit without the heavily wielded hammer of theory.
Instead, the work exhibited in the back garden of 147 Halsey Street featured pastel and Day-Glo-flecked sculpture and painting: Thomason’s transparent, amoebic three-dimensional form, splayed flat on the ground and filled with gallons of bright pink L.A. Looks hair gel; Ikeler’s monochrome abstract renditions hung on the fence of the property, the painting’s surfaces obscured by chain and nylon mesh laundry bags; and Ronayne’s spray paint and mixed media compositions on free-standing metal sheets wedged into the earth (the closest in terms of material execution to Chamberlain’s crushed metal sculptures). Neither gender-specific nor traditionally installed, these objects, all executed in the language of abstraction and left to the mercy of the elements, took on associations much larger than any individual body-politics could offer—exactly what Ikeler and Roman were shooting for. In Ikeler’s words, “An artist’s work is often enriched by an understanding of its context within the world…how it is written about and discussed. We at GP/A wanted to have those elements built in.”
GP/A’s platform is two-pronged: it consists of a monthly exhibition with accompanying text, open to the public one Saturday each month and staged in different locations throughout Brooklyn. The following evening is reserved for an invitation-only dinner party; the guest list comprises participating artists, academics and/or critics of their choosing. “The premise of the dinner,” according to the organizers, “is that the [exhibiting] artists can use the occasion of their show as an opportunity to invite a guest they wish to be in dialogue with, but are perhaps not already [acquainted with] in a personal or professional sense.” They go on to say that “the dinner does not serve the function of a critique situation. It’s a social event. It is meant to be a critical and intellectual discussion, but it is also informal.”
As a guest of this first installment, I can attest to the refreshingly collegial atmosphere created by Roman and Ikeler: a sit-down event with home-cooked fare where, finally, a group of contemporary female artists who were not afraid to call themselves feminists sat down to discuss art, life, and on a more serious note, the art market and gender politics. Granted, this platform for social and academic exchange is nothing groundbreaking—the associations with Rirkrit Tiravanija’s performative explorations and Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party” spring immediately to mind. What sets GP/A’s platform apart is the fact that these gatherings are not staged as a public event, but rather, aim to mimic the intimate dinner-table discussions of bygone eras by bringing together a small, select cohort of like-minded individuals within a determined domestic setting.
On a more subversive note, and as Ikeler mentioned in our conversations surrounding the birth of the project, “We also like that the “garden party” evokes Victorian proto-feminism, so that a leisurely afternoon spent sipping drinks in a backyard is an opportunity for feminist scheming.” To achieve this level of critical discourse, art viewing, and social exchange in one weekend in a backyard garden in Bedstuy is hardly par for the course; rather, by grounding the participants within such historical frameworks, and consciously stepping outside of those boundaries by using them to present an occasion for the viewing of contemporary feminist art, it is downright avant-garde.
Roster of upcoming GP/A exhibitions:
July 7: MASCULINISMS (group show)—221 Franklin, Brooklyn
July 28: Hole 3: One Divides—Colleen Asper and Marika Kandelaki—147 Halsey Street, Brooklyn
For more information on GP/A, visit gardenpartyarts.com