review swapper

Apexart

In New York on February 8, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Apexart Franchising (image from Apexart website)

Dear Fayen,

Recently I went on a field trip with a group of artists from around the world, all of whom, like me, are part of the residency program at ISCP in Brooklyn. The afternoon took in a handful of independent non-profit spaces in Soho, where we were given a brief introductory talk from a curator or director at four of the five spaces we visited (the fifth was an exhibition opening at Art in General). I guess the speakers were not given any particular brief about what they should talk about, so it turned out to be quite revealing to see what each chose to tell us. The director at Artists Space gave a historical run-down on the organisation which also alluded to its intentions and position. Over at the Drawing Center the director gave us quite an informed and impassioned floor talk of the show (sketches & scores by composer Iannis Xenakis), but his intro spiel before that was pretty much a synopsis of his own CV, which was weird but I guess quite ‘New York’!  Next we went to the Swiss Institute where the hip young director was basically leaning against the wall telling us how he likes to do projects that no one else has ever done before and that the Institute doesn’t have to answer to anyone. He then handed us over to an intern for the floor talk. Anyway, the introduction we received at Apexart was the most surprising, slightly evangelical, and has got me thinking more about some of their programs.

Apexart was founded in 1994 by an artist, Steven Rand, who spoke to us on our visit. He had a really cute little dog with him in the gallery (also trés NY!). His main point was to implore the gathered international artists (plus me, the one non-artist on the program) to spend our residency time looking around New York, rather than working in our studios. (Putting aside the fact that this presumes a studio-based definition of art practice…) This relates to Apexart’s own model of residencies. The gallery takes in visiting artists/curators/writers for residencies of one month and doesn’t let them do any work. Instead Apexart prescribe their visitor an itinerary of engagement with the city, emphasising cultural experiences over production of new work. They also organise outbound residencies for New York artists to spend a month in a foreign country – again they’re not supposed to make work during this time, just soak up the foreign-ness.

While his speech felt unnecessary or misdirected for his audience in this case – people from all over the world who’s very presence there indicated some desire to see new places and new things (after a while one of our group asked ‘why are you telling us this?’) – it did point to some different ideas about distance and locality. The more didactic Steven Rand’s tone in expressing the international connections and exchange that Apexart strives for, the more insular an impression he gave me of New York.

It’s hard to blame the New York art scene for being inward-looking, I mean covering a few blocks in Chelsea any day of the year is practically like visiting the Sydney Biennale! (You just get to make up your own all-encompassing theme.) So it’s interesting when a space here makes it a specific goal to operate internationally, especially such a small organisation as Apexart. The residency program is a pretty straightforward way to set up this kind of interaction. But a more oddball and perhaps problematic approach Apexart has also taken is their Franchise project. After a global open call and selection process, Apexart fund and support an exhibition in a foreign locale for one month. The winner gets to call themselves or their gallery ‘Apexart’ for the month. Rand seemed sincerely enthused that this branding was such a prize, but I’d say the $10,000 and publicity on offer is more where it’s at! I don’t really understand why else a group or space somewhere else (Los Angeles and Samut Sakhon, Thailand, have been the winning locations so far) would desire to be bestowed this kind of outpost status.  I was also surprised that Rand described these projects in terms of benefits for the recipient, but didn’t talk about what Apexart got out of the deal. Almost like it is an outreach project, despite the corporate-sounding concept of the ‘franchise’.

To date there hasn’t been a lot of Australian or New Zealand interaction with Apexart. Those interested can look for the opportunity, but personally I’d be a little wary of the ‘detailed schedule of daily activities’ set for residents and the ‘almost complete control’ given to winners of the Franchise project!

Talk to you soon,

Rosemary

Reply swap to Fayen D’Evie
  1. Hey Roses, since reading your review, I’ve been troubled by Apex’s strategy of co-opting business-speak. I’m not sure what troubles me most about it. Perhaps it sets off alarm bells re what has happened to art education in Australia and NZ since art schools have been forced to re-language through a business/managerial lens. Or maybe it’s the neo-colonial overtones. I started to wonder what would be the difference if Apex had just run collaborative projects with international partners – I guess by ‘franchising’ there’s an implication that the franchisee is more beholden to Apex’s standards and systems and priorities (vis the “almost complete control” statement), rather than a looser continuum of mutual goal-setting/process-shaping. In terms of benefits to a franchisee, (cf benefits to a collaborator/partner), being actually branded as Apex could conceivably bring additional cache if Apex has a significant reputation in that franchisee’s sphere of cultural concern. (Similar to the drawing power of the Guggenheim branded show at NGV). But Apex seems to be known mainly in New York… From a business point of view, maybe the franchise language offers a useful marketing gimmick, to enable Apex to profile its international collaborations in a more PR-friendly way (which brings it back to the advantages to Apex but not necessarily to the recipient). I guess, despite the allure of the $10,000 cash, I’m ultimately a bit skeptical…

  2. For me it was the kind of colonising approach to exchange that made me bristle, but you’re right – embracing the corporate lingo does seem a strange thing to do with no apparent subversion involved. They state that the Franchise explores a relationship between art and commerce… I don’t see what it reveals about this relationship.

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