HOPE GINSBURG
Heart of Gold: a Guide (excerpt)

Hope Ginsburg’s project, Designtex, Climatex ® Lifecycle™ (2002) introduces a biodegradable fabric produced at the upholstery firm where she works into the context of an art exhibition. You might assume, based on many other artists’ projects which deal with corporate commerce, that this is an attempt at fighting the corporate system from the inside. But the presentation is not for the purposes of critique; nor is it a case of “because I am an artist, whatever I do is art.” It’s more as if Ginsburg is saying, “because I am an artist, I know what art is.” The fact that she has discovered art within the corporate context does not dismay her. With an elegant demonstration of the fabric’s properties via a display unit/compost bin and upholstered benches, Ginsburg provokes us into questioning our received ideas about the limits of the corporate.

(catalog text)

Heart of Gold is made up of seven very different works which appeal to the eye, the ear, and the intellect. The works reflect on and re-create the desire produced by (among other things) contemporary capitalism, without relinquishing an understanding of the system’s exploitative structure and our own implication in it. Without overlapping in medium or even, necessarily, intention, together they make us think about how lucky and damning it is to be American.

In Katrin Asbury’s From the Dream Life of Lila Acheson Wallace (2002), a life-size carved gerenuk (a type of antelope) stands on its hind legs nibbling at a bouquet of flowers in what appears to be the lobby of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Dream Life (whose title makes tribute to the philanthropist among whose contributions to the Metropolitan was an endowment earmarked for these flowers) is a classic dream-image, simultaneously simple and pregnant. It is too reductive to say that that creature symbolizes the viewer? Maybe. But I know that when I visit the Met that’s what I become: innocent, barbaric and feeling so strongly about those priceless possessions that I want to eat them.

Anissa Mack’s I’m Like You, Do You Like Me? (2002) fixes the bandanna within the American pantheon of icons. To do so, Mack learned the craft of stained glass, the ultimate “elevated” medium, whose reliable magic is no less magical for its reliability. To portray an American symbol in an exalted “European” medium - like a robber baron building a Tudor mansion - is a classic act of American myth-making. From the conquest of the West to the rock-and-roll star, this myth-making has, of course, been inextricable from money-making; and through it all, the bandanna has retained its buccaneer spirit.

One of my favorite public projects ever is Chris Doyle’s Commutable (1996), an anti-heroic tribute to contemporary and historic New York. In collaboration with the Public Art Fund, Doyle gilded the gritty steps of the Manhattan approach to the Williamsburg bridge with $7500.00 worth of gold. This was one of the first contemporary art projects to ever intrude on my consciousness, and it did so due to a very direct kind of magic (by which other works in this exhibition function as well). Commutable’s generous gesture is to make a reality out of a dream.

Noah Sheldon’s Winning (2001) was recorded in a casino – one of the places where emotional involvement in cash-flow is most cynically exploited. We hear hundreds of slot machines making their appeal and the occasional extended flow of quarters into a cup: a continuing jangle that’s instantly recognizable but also somehow exalted. In another exhibition, Sheldon, experimenting with synaesthesia – the effect of one sense on another – had visitors wear headphones to hear Winning while viewing work by the other artists in the show. In this exhibition, the piece, like a soundtrack for a film, carves out and seals a space, inflecting it with a heightened sense of possibility in a minor key.

While these works appeal to the senses - like luxury itself - this exhibition is not an investigation of decadence. Decadence implies a cynical, privileged position outside society; the artists in Heart of Gold are passionately involved in daily life, and their involvement is located precisely in their capacity as practitioners of art. To them, art is that which is “expansive,” as Hope Ginsburg puts it, or, as Peter Walsh says, that which ‘squares’ and ‘cubes’ cultural value.”

Peter Walsh’s Hoard (2002) takes the form of an annotated bibliography, bound and available for consultation on a library stand. It’s a comically ambitious and varied collection of visual and written materials (an advertising executive talking passionately about Mr. Peanut; lyrics from Ginger Rogers’ pig-latin rendition of “We’re in the Money” from the film Gold-Diggers of 1933 (1933); references to Georg Simmel, Karl Marx and P.T. Barnum) that inquire into and serve as examples of how value is created, managed, conserved and negotiated.

If you page through the Hoard, you’ll see how central these functions are to human society throughout history, and come across some choice examples from contemporary capitalist culture, whose unhinged and heartless energy has created unprecedented connections between desire and the flow of capital.

Hope Ginsburg’s project, Designtex, Climatex ® Lifecycle™ (2002) introduces a biodegradable fabric produced at the upholstery firm where she works into the context of an art exhibition. You might assume, based on many other artists’ projects which deal with corporate commerce, that this is an attempt at fighting the corporate system from the inside. But the presentation is not for the purposes of critique; nor is it a case of “because I am an artist, whatever I do is art.” It’s more as if Ginsburg is saying, “because I am an artist, I know what art is.” The fact that she has discovered art within the corporate context does not dismay her. With an elegant demonstration of the fabric’s properties via a display unit/compost bin and upholstered benches, Ginsburg provokes us into questioning our received ideas about the limits of the corporate.

With its implied consciousness of economic structures, the work in Heart of Gold could not have existed without the 30-year history of “institutional critique,” as described in Bennett Simpson’s essay in this publication. Simpson describes how artists working in this vein attempted to “investigate the specific ideological parameters of a site (a museum, a city, a national arts policy, a cultural context, ...etc),” revealing their hidden economic and ideological support structures. The artists in Heart of Gold emerge from this legacy while speaking through their own embeddedness and implication in economic power.

Eleanor Antin’s 1974 video The Ballerina and the Bum serves as a touchstone for the exhibition. In the video, an early incarnation of this seminal feminist’s ballerina alter-ego – dressed, naturally, in a white tutu and tights – plans to walk across the United States to “make it in the Big City.” She meets a bum on a stalled freight train, and they discuss strategies for success. The humor in Antin’s portrayal of her ballerina’s dedication to her dream; her playfulness with American mythology, and her ballerina’s innocence and spunk as she practices her positions echo in the heartfelt investigations and ambitions of the new projects.