Heart of Gold presents seven very different works that address the eye, the ear, and the intellect. Without overlapping in medium or even, necessarily, intention, together they ask us to consider how lucky and damning it is to be American. Though the works appeal to the senses—like luxury itself—the exhibition is not an investigation of decadence. Decadence implies a position apart from society; the artists in Heart of Gold are passionately involved in daily life, and their involvement is located precisely in their capacity as practitioners of art. To them, art is that which is "expansive," as Hope Ginsburg puts it, or, as Peter Walsh says, that which "'squares' and 'cubes' cultural value."
Eleanor Antin's 1974 film The Ballerina and the Bum serves as a touchstone for the exhibition: humorous and acute as it plays with and devotes itself to the creation of American mythology. In the film, this seminal feminist's ballerina alter-ego plans to walk across the United States, dressed in a tutu, with toe-shoes dangling over her shoulder, to "Make it in the Big City." She meets a bum on a freight train, and together they dream of success.
Katrin Asbury's From the Dream Life of Lila Acheson Wallace (2002) is a life-size diorama of a gerenuk (a type of antelope) on its hind legs nibbling at a bouquet of flowers in what may very well be the lobby of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The title of the work makes reference to the philanthropist, who, among other contributions to the Met, created an endowment exclusively for the lobby's flower supply. Asbury's dioramas, installations, and performances detail the struggles of, among others, wild animals on the steppe, an orchid-thief, a stressed-out medical student, and a Danish inventor with humor and pathos. Made up largely of hand-sculpted elements, her works stage glimpses of idiosyncratic personal projects or dreams molded into solid shape.
Chris Doyle's public project Commutable (1996), an anti-heroic monument to immigration in contemporary and historic New York, makes an appearance in Heart of Gold through photographic documentation. As part of the Public Art Fund's In the Public Realm series for emerging New York artists, Doyle gilded the gritty steps of the Manhattan approach to the Williamsburg Bridge with $7500.00 worth of gold. This gesture, simple yet requiring painstaking labor, generously creates a physical reality out of a dream. Another public art project, LEAP (2000), involved a video projection of 420 New Yorkers from all five boroughs onto the facade of Two Columbus Circle. Created in collaboration with Creative Time, evening commuters could watch a continuous stream of New Yorkers as they appeared at the base of the building, leapt across the facade and disappeared into the sky. Doyle comments that, "having grown up in a culture that lionizes celebrity, I wanted to rethink the urban monument as an homage to the non-famous and to honor their aspirations."
Hope Ginsburg works in the marketing department at Designtex, a major American textile firm. In collaboration with an architect, a chemist, and a Swiss mill, Designtex developed the biodegradable commercial upholstery, Climatex Lifecycle, which is safe for living things at every stage of its manufacture, use, and disposal. The artist was asked to assemble a slide presentation for use by the company's sales force about the environmental textile program and, struck by the business practices that sustained the product's development, went on to create Designtex, Climatex Lifecycle (2002). This work includes a customized compost bin/display unit containing samples of the fabric in all of the stages of its cycle, from bright cut yardage to the mulch made from its waste trimmings to a worm compartment where the fabric is nibbled into compost; as well as an information sheet on the project.
The presentation Designtex, Climatex Lifecycle at P.S.1 could be considered one more phase in its life cycle. The compost bin has been on view both in an art space, Real Art Ways in Hartford, Connecticut, and in the corporate headquarters of Designtex. The information sheet, created for the artwork, became an official Designtex marketing tool. As a portrait of an artist aggressively locating art inside daily life, Designtex, Climatex Lifecycle poses confounding questions about the links between the corporate, the artist, the art institution and art itself in contemporary America. Ginsburg's previous projects have included a collaboration with New York and Connecticut beekeepers where she wore a bee beard and produced Bearded Lady pure wildflower honey, which she then sold; and an almost-successful attempt to become a Program Host on QVC, the nation's largest cable home shopping channel. With outlandish enthusiasm and acuity, Ginsburg navigates capitalism with open eyes and, taking a cue from Joseph Beuys, provides an example of what it means to add consciousness to daily action.
Anissa Mack's I like you, do you like me? (2002) is four stained-glass windows patterned on the bandanna. Each window is a glowing panel of red, blue, pink or green, together creating a sort of chapel to the persistence and flexibility of an American myth. Originally worn by the conquering cowboy, the bandanna has been re-saturated with meaning by gay club life; Bruce Springsteen; urban gangs of many ethnicities; and corporate appropriations of all of the above. Much of Macks work takes the form of re-animating collective or cinematic memory, such as an installation of a wood pile shiny with polyurethane, or photographs of her adult self engaged in now-much-less innocent actions captured in her childhood. Starting May 16, 2002, she will be baking pies and leaving them to cool on the windowsill of a house on the plaza of the main branch of Brooklyn Library, as part of the Public Art Funds In the Public Realm.
Noah Sheldon's Winning (2001) is a sound piece recorded in a casino. Hundreds of slot machines making their appeal and the occasional extended crash of change create a dense aural environment that's instantly recognizable but wouldn't be out of place in a cathedral. In another exhibition, Sheldon, experimenting with synesthesia—the effect of one sense on another—had visitors wear headphones to hear this piece while viewing other work in the show. In Heart of Gold, Winning is presented as a public soundtrack and carves out a space of unlikely beauty and anxiety.
Peter Walsh's Hoard (2002) is an annotated bibliography of visual and written materials that inquire into how human society creates, manages, conserves, and negotiates value. Hoard is organized as an easy-to-use map in which Beowulf, Jack Smith, Mr. Peanut, Karl Marx, P.T. Barnum and The Gold-diggers of 1933, to name only a few, are found at the intersection of economics and aesthetics. Walsh primarily works in performance to reveal the economic underpinnings of a site: returning, with great ceremony, New York City water to the residents of the upstate town where the city's reservoirs are located; re-creating a P.T. Barnum promotional stunt circulating a group of bricks around an intersection for an entire day in what is now the financial district; and, after moving from Baltimore, having a Chesapeake crab feast on a roof, also in New York's financial district.
This exhibition is curated by P.S.1 Associate Curator Larissa Harris and is accompanied by a publication containing information sections on the artists; an essay by Harris; an essay by independent curator and critic Bennett Simpson; puzzles by poet and translator Monica de la Torre; and interviews with the artists by Harris.