Out of Alternatives

May 18, 2014 from 11:00 am - 5:00 pm
Artists Space Books & Talks, 55 Walker Street, New York, NY

Presented by Common Practice New York and Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College (CCS Bard)
Artists Space Books & Talks, 55 Walker Street, New York, NY
Sunday, May 18, 11:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.

On May 18, Common Practice New York will present Out of Alternatives, a symposium on the role of small-scale arts organizations in New York City, hosted by Artists Space Books & Talks and co-presented by CCS Bard. Participants include Rhea Anastas, Katherine Brewer Ball, David Joselit, Ralph Lemon, Stephen Levin, Park MacArthur, Nadja Millner-Larsen, and Andrea Fraser and Lise Soskolne for Working Artists and the Greater Economy (W.A.G.E.), with additional presentations and support from CCS Bard students Sabrina Blaichman, Neringa Cerniauskaite, Andrew Kachel, Clara Lopez, Cloé Perrone, and Carla Acevedo-Yates.

Out of Alternatives, the first public initiative by CPNY will examine the ways in which small-scale organizations are perceived and understood by audiences, artists, and funders; identify the challenges of operating in today’s climate; and revive discussions of obstacles and inequalities which have persisted since the rise of the alternative space. Out of Alternatives will further a partnership between CPNY and CCS Bard that began in fall of 2013 with a series of invitational roundtables, site visits, and discussions. This partnership will continue with the production of a publication that will include transcripts from these events alongside additional essays and artistic contributions.

Space is limited, seating is first-come, first-served.


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11:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m.
Keynote: “In Praise of Small”

Art historian David Joselit will ask whether there is a particular ethos possessed by small-scale organizations and, if so, how does it operate within the greater field? By reframing small-scale organizations as propositions unto themselves, Joselit will discuss how publics emerge from these spaces; the relationship between scale and radicalism; the importance of documentation; and the ability to speculate, politicize information, and re-signify art beyond its profit-making potential. Joselit will be introduced by members of Common Practice New York and Paul O’Neill, director of the graduate program at CCS Bard.

12:00–1:00 p.m.

New York City Council Member Stephen Levin and the activist group Working Artists and the Greater Economy (W.A.G.E.)—represented by artists Andrea Fraser, board member, and Lise Soskolne, core organizer—will each present propositions for the city’s cultural policy. Both plans address the economic challenges facing artists and ways of combating inequality. Taken together, their proposals question how structures for art production, presentation, and reception are shaped and surveyed, especially with regards to the role of small-scale nonprofits. Do such organizations have a responsibility to local artist communities? How can these organizations successfully argue for their importance at the level of city government?

2:00–3:00 p.m.

Artists Ralph Lemon and Park McArthur and scholar Katherine Brewer Ball will discuss how performance, deliberately or incidentally, adapts to the scale and audience of an organization. How is the radicalism of a performer’s proposition changed as a result? The academic field of Performance Studies considers performance as a sprawling category—one that encompasses social life and is inherently interdisciplinary and site-responsive. What can performance tell us about the changing relationship between small-scale organizations and their publics? With research and support by CCS Bard students Andrew Kachel and Clara Lopez.

3:30–4:00 p.m.

CCS Bard students and curators Sabrina Blaichman, Neringa Cerniauskaite, and Cloé Perrone will present three propositions for small-scale organizations, informed by the work of proliferating, agile, artist-led collectives. What methodologies might organizations adopt from collectives that have embraced so-called capitalist infrastructures and “accelerationist” strategies? In a landscape where both models coexist, even thrive, what challenges do artists and curators face when attempting to envision the future? 

4:00–5:00 p.m.

Art historian Rhea Anastas, media historian Nadja Millner-Larsen, and Light Industry cofounder and director Ed Halter, will discuss whether small-scale organizations establish a kind of instant art history, serving museums and culture-at-large as test sites for new artistic practice. What is the responsibility of an organization to address pressing social and political concerns with “instant” programming? Likewise, can an organization’s history—its archive, its public-as-archive—provide an ethical roadmap for its future? With research and support by CCS Bard student Carla Acevedo-Yates.

Common Practice New York would like to thank Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt, David Joselit, Margaret Lee, Ralph Lemon, Allan Schwartzman, and Lynne Tillman, whose contributions to our invitational roundtables this past fall have informed and inspired Out of Alternatives. Generous support for Common Practice New York and Out of Alternatives has been provided by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Lambent Foundation/Fund of Tides Foundation, and Outset USA.


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Rhea Anastas teaches at the University of Southern California’s Roski School of Art and Design, where she is Director of the MA program for Art and Curatorial Practices in the Public Sphere. Anastas co-founded—with Andrea Fraser, Nicolas Guagnini, and nine other artists—Orchard, the experimental New York gallery that operated from 2005 until 2008 on the Lower East Side. She is currently editing, with Nicolas Guagnini, a collection of writings related to the collaborative space.

Katherine Brewer Ball is Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Center for the Humanities at Wesleyan University. She received her PhD in Performance Studies at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and writes between the disciplines of performance, media, gender studies, and critical ethnic studies. She has taught at Pratt, New York University, Barnard, and the School of Visual Arts.

The Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College (CCS Bard) was founded in 1990 as an exhibition and research center for the study of late twentieth-century and contemporary art and culture and to explore experimental approaches to the presentation of these topics and their impact on our world. Since 1994, the Center for Curatorial Studies and its graduate program have provided one of the world’s most forward thinking teaching and learning environments for the research and practice of contemporary art and curatorship. It is uniquely positioned within the larger Center’s tripartite resources, which include the internationally renowned CCS Bard Library and Archives and the Hessel Museum of Art, with its rich permanent collection.

Common Practice New York is a recently formed advocacy group that fosters research and discussions about the role of small-scale arts institutions in New York City. The founding members of CPNY are Artists Space, The Kitchen, Light Industry, Participant Inc, Printed Matter, Triple Canopy, and White Columns. 

David Joselit is Distinguished Professor in the PhD Program in Art History at the CUNY Graduate Center. His most recent book is After Art (Princeton, 2012).

Ralph Lemon is a choreographer, conceptualist, director, writer, and installation artist who is artistic director of Cross Performance, Inc. His recent works and exhibitions include “When the Stars Begin to Fall: Imagination and the American South, Studio Museum in Harlem (2014); 4Walls, EMPAC (2012); “1856 Cessna Road,” Studio Museum in Harlem (2012); How can you stay in the house all day and not go anywhere?, multiple venues (2010); (the efflorescence of) Walter, Contemporary Art Center of New Orleans (2008), The Kitchen (2007) and Walker Art Center (2006); The Geography Trilogy (1997–2004); among others.

Nadja Millner-Larsen is a writer and historian who recently completed her doctorate in the Department of Media, Culture and Communication at NYU. She is currently a visiting faculty member at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, and will be joining the Department of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths College in the fall of 2014.

Stephen Levin is a member of the New York City Council who represents Brooklyn’s 33rd District. With fellow Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, Levin has introduced the New York City Cultural Plan, a bill which calls on the city to analyze its current cultural priorities, determine how different communities are being served, study the condition of artists in the city, and propose how the city can remain artist-friendly in a time of skyrocketing rents and other economic pressures.

Park McArthur was born North Carolina and currently lives in New York. Her artwork has been exhibited at The Kitchen and Essex Street (both New York); Catherine Bastide (Brussels); and Lars Friedrich (Berlin). Her writing has been included in the International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics and the Movement Research Performance Journal. An essay written with Constantina Zavitsanos was included in We Are Born in Flames, a special issue of Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory, edited by Dean Spade and Craig Willse.

Working Artists and the Greater Economy (W.A.G.E.), founded in 2008, is a New York-based activist group whose advocacy is focused on regulating the payment of artist fees by nonprofit art institutions, and establishing a sustainable model for best practices between artists and the institutions that contract their labor. Four years after The 2010 W.A.G.E. Artist Survey gathered data about the payment practices of New York City nonprofits, W.A.G.E. has established a certification program that publicly recognizes those institutions paying fees meeting a minimum payment standard. W.A.G.E. Certification was developed into a policy and regulatory tool at the 2014 W.A.G.E. Summit and will be launched in fall 2014.




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