After months of speculation over whether the Brooklyn Museum’s crowdsourcing experiment would work, the museum’s efforts have resulted in a 5-person (Adrian Coleman, Oliver Jeffers, Naomi Safran-Hon, Gabrielle Watson, and Yeon Ji Yoo) group show. Now that the works are on view, it’s a good time to reflect on the “community-curated” exhibition.
In the spring of last year, the Brooklyn Museum began its first steps toward the exhibition by hosting open studios. But the process was full of kinks. Only artists with an appropriate studio could participate. Then, by the time open studio weekend came around, the voting process was too short, and full of technical difficulties. From those results, the museum’s curators whittled down the field to the five artists seen in the current exhibition.
All in all, it was a lot of work to narrow down the field for Brooklyn’s best homegrown artist.
Of the artists chosen for GO, all but one was born outside the United States. While that appears to represent the globalism that is Brooklyn, it also demonstrates the borough’s rampant art careerism; one of the artists, Oliver Jeffers, appears primed for celebrity, or at the very least a successful Kickstarter campaign. Watching the Australian-born Irishman’s video interview (all the GO artists have them as part of their wall labels), he exudes good looks, goofiness, and charisma. From reading the label, it appears he had a fanbase prior to GO, for a series of children’s books. That vein of small-scale celebrity troubled me more than anything else in the exhibition. But I’m not sure how we get rid of it with an exhibition resulting from a popular vote.
As for the exhibition itself, it doesn’t look great. That flaw’s not the artists’ fault: most of the work appears poorly considered for the gallery—actually a long, squat hallway at the Brooklyn Museum. The artists should be upset.
There’s really no better example of ill-fitting exhibition design than Yeon Ji Yoo’s The Fight, an installation of sparkling white paper trees that are too short to reach up to the gallery ceiling. These tree trunks don’t fit in the gallery, making them look like props stored away in a corner. They did, however, make great backdrops for many gallery-goers’ Instagrams.
Yoo is one of the more experienced artists in the GO bunch—she has her MFA and currently teaches at Queens College—and she’s exhibited The Fight before. When it was installed in Wave Hill’s “sun porch” gallery last year, the translucent paper surely benefited from light seeping through the windows. That quality was nowhere to be seen in the Brooklyn Museum’s low-ceilinged interior.
As one might expect with the results of crowd-curated shows, a lot of the work feels generic. Naomi Safran-Hon’s collages start out as photographs, but then she painted and glued on materials like lace and cement to give them a greater, hyper-realistic effect; they look like ruin porn. Gabrielle Watson’s portraits appear to have been filled in with a paint-by-number style popularized by Andy Warhol, and more recently, Shepard Fairey. As it stands, the democratic-ish selection process has yet to discover any great artists.
Of course, maybe that’s a lot to ask of democracy, which exists to make sure all voices are heard and there’s an alternative to the powers that be. In the art world, we need some democracy; otherwise, we’d only get blue chip galleries. Still, democracy’s not perfect. While we don’t expect the people to choose the very best American Idol or President, we hope that the experts—the judges, delegates, curators, whomever—can assist with the process.
In the case of the Brooklyn Museum, we at least expect the curators to help put on a quality exhibition. What we got was a shoddy popularity contest.