Heading down the stairs to Miguel Abreu Gallery’s basement show has the same allure as visiting the East Village’s PDT speakeasy hidden behind a hot dog joint. Just knowing about it is half the charm; the other half is the show’s risqué subject matter. A disclaimer on the basement door indicates that Commodity/Fetish (through April 10) may contain some offensive material. Word has it someone complained about the photographs of naked dolls.
The crux of the exhibition is made clear through the selections of curator and participating artist NicolÃ¡s Guagnini—each reveals the complexity within the commodity/fetish relationship. Past those naughty Hans Bellmer images from the mid-30s and 40s, though, there’s hardly any material that would solicit complaints. Guagnini, Sam Lewitt and Richard Prince don’t even picture bodies. Three works made by Robert Heinecken in the early 80s titled “Lessons in Posing Subjects” feature women in lingerie and descriptive text; they aren’t exactly scandalous, but a few critics I met outside the gallery tabled the idea that their execution date made them more courageous. Artists were only starting to embrace such figure-text combinations at that time.
That reading’s lost now, but the history remains relevant. There’s not a lot on view that could shock, but most of the artists included demanded a great deal from their audiences at the time their work was made. And, planned or not, this parallels the exhibition design, which couldn’t make commodity sexier if it tried. The cramped space literally forces a physical relationship with nearly every object in the room. There’s no shortage of work, either, given the four movable eight-sided display units. These walls are literally artworks—Guagnini titles them “Curatorial Machine (Exhibition System 7)”—their primary function to make the viewer more aware of themselves and others.
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