written by Jeff Grunthaner in New York
If the sense of beauty has anything to offer us, then we have to bracket the kind of moralism that reduces pleasure to utility, considering instead the utopian potentials delineated by works of art as intimations of new societal relations. It’s both paradoxical and frustrating that most galleries are shells.
Your typical art-intoxicated night out resembles nothing less than ghostling swarms of embryos darting in and out of galleries, as though to incarnate themselves by inhabiting somemomentary carapace, becoming a kind of hybrid species physically branded by the sites they’ve visited. Economics play a heavy hand in this.
Whatever aspirations artists and curators come to NY with, they inevitably get caught on the pneumatic grid of money, which confines their ambitions like an ether, inverting their interest in art into to that form of interest reserved for fiscal concerns. But if works of art are externalizations of desire, dominated by the pleasure principle, there should be a way to use what’s best in the aesthetic experience (fun) to create a corresponding threshold that allows art to thrive in an atmosphere conformable to the most receptive experience possible.
I think James Fuente’s gallery is accomplishing this, however asymptotically. Fuentes’s gallery is superfluid. It’s not so much the quality of the works that exhibit there, as the variations that obtain from show to show which interest me the most. I’ve seen shows composed of gutted walls of exposed electrical wiring, video pieces that focused on the healing powers of the abject, and a group show that felt weirdly compelling despite the sprawling dissimilarity of the art objects on exhibit.
A vaguely assuming exterior of green brick opens onto a long hallway, which to your right gives way to the large main gallery. There’s a back room, also, which for the moment functions as a public viewing space (Fuentes often has two shows exhibiting simultaneously), but which will by and by be reserved for private viewings only.
There are no windows in the gallery, which permits the construction of light to become characteristic of the works on display. The walls are white; but one can imagine them painted black or green or any other color, as though to foster a more variegated sense of the architecture itself. I feel there’s a relational quality born from all this, from the space itself: a myriad substance that can be predicated in a multitude of different ways.
There’s the sensation that accompanies you as you’re leaving Fuentes’s space, which is less like entering into another world than into the geographic specificity of the LES itself. The way the space manages to capture a kind of regionalism in its exhibitions of art objects and performances, while not condescending to a DIY or historicized aesthetic, is genuinely contemporary. I think it’s this sense of the genuine that I’m trying to describe here. Isn’t this what art is designed to achieve?
How do you conceive of your programming in relation to the environing neighborhood?
The gallery program is very much its own organism. However, a characteristic of what we try to do is hold a mirror to what’s immediately outside of the gallery, and this can tap into a current or historic narrative. This is an effort to situate the physical gallery in its immediate geography and be mindful of its location, street, neighborhood, and community.
Is there any way the structure of your gallery reflects its organization? For example, are different people allotted different areas to work in?
There are only three full time staff members right now so we all work together on everything.
Describe the transformation that has undergone in your space over the past two years. What motivated this? Do you think your current space gives artists exhibition opportunities they might lack elsewhere?
We were on Delancey Street for five years, in a space that we were starting to outgrow. The space next door became available, so we recently expanded into there. We underwent a gut renovation so have a brand new facility, so to speak. Stephanie Goto was the architect. The expanded gallery offers much more to the artists. For the first year in our new space we have intermittently been programming our viewing room and calling that zone Allen & Eldridge. It was important for me to be able to introduce new artists and points of view to the gallery in the first year, and this was a good way to do that.
As a curator, what is the ideal exhibition you would personally aspire to?
Aspirations in that regard change all the time.
At what moment, or during what incident or exhibition, did you notice that you were starting to outgrow the former space?
What prompted my expansion was not outgrowing the old space so much as realizing that I needed to take action on an opportunity that presented itself when the space next door to the gallery became available, the location and space really suited us as it was and the idea of more than doubling the space without having to move was exciting.
In your opinion, how does art relate to life? Do you think the walls of a gallery prevent art from entering into daily life?
Ultimately, the walls of the gallery give us a good barrier to push against or operate within to aspire to make compelling exhibitions/environments. We now all have access to seeing art in daily life. I am not saying it’s the same thing, but I no doubt see more artworks on Instagram than in galleries. I think that invisible barrier between art and everyday life—let's face it, that "barrier" is education—continues to erode the more information is accessible through these means. Galleries are free and open to everyone. In fact, we should probably put a sign up out front and see if that welcomes more people to come in!
The next solo exhibition at James Fuentes LLC will feature work by John Mcallister. It opens on November 13th.