Thursday, September 17, 2009
The new show at Spaces gallery in Cleveland is not a show at all -- not in a traditional sense. Titled "The Plum Academy: An Institute for Situated Practices," it is intended to function as a temporary experimental school of sorts, presented as an exhibition.
Instead of classes led by teachers, "The Plum Academy" offers what the gallery is calling "forums" led by "facilitators." Participants pay a small fee (for most events) to spend an hour or two in the gallery taking part in a workshop, open discussion or presentation.
The idea, according to the gallery's promotional materials, is to "tackle contemporary thought on a number of topics" and to "challenge traditional educational systems."
That all sounds fine to me. But, given that Spaces is an artist-run gallery, not an educational institution, can it really pull off such lofty aims?
I'm not so sure after attending one of this week's forums, called "Chance and Procedural Writing: History and Practice," with facilitator Tom Orange.
Orange, who received his doctorate in English literature from the University of Western Ontario, began the session by leading a group of 11 participants in an open discussion about Dada, the nearly 100-year-old art movement that arose in several European cities largely in response to the brutality of World War I.
Orange covered some basics, showing projected digital images by key Dadaists such as Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray.
He wrote on a chalkboard Tristan Tzara's 10 steps on "How to Make a Dadaist Poem," then handed out scissors and newspaper and asked participants to proceed in making their own poems.
While it seemed to me that everyone was enjoying the exercise, none of this struck me as being particularly contemporary or nontraditional.
Dadaism is a well-worked 20th-century art movement, after all. In light of the many ways that contemporary artists have embraced new media, formats and models of art-making, Dada seems quaint and romantic -- certainly nothing new or challenging.
But even more problematic is the fact that Spaces has a history of celebrating antiquated visions of experimental art. Duchamp might as well be its patron saint. And an event such as this one feels like a not-so-subtle indoctrination in outdated ideals.
The idea of turning an alternative artist-run gallery into an experimental school is an exciting one. And maybe future forums during "The Plum Academy's" run will be more successful.
Then again, maybe the artists who run Spaces could benefit from a little education themselves.