I have always hated the Whitney Biennial. After all, I’ve never been in it. If this admission makes me seem like an embittered narcissist, which of course I am, then so be it. Honesty is the cornerstone of my esthetic.
So believe me when I tell you that I’d watch ice dancing at the sports bar on Ludlow Street before I’d go to some biennial. But then my editor called me up about "The Brucennial 2010 Miseducation," a giant invitational group show presented by the "Canadarchist" art collective, the Bruce High Quality Foundation, along with curator Vito Schnabel.
"Try to find out what those crazy kids are up to," my editor proposed.
A choice assignment. Secret societies have always fascinated me, especially ones comprised entirely of dudes.
I imagined myself in the dimly lit BHQF headquarters, surrounded by cloaked and hooded young art stars performing unspeakable rituals a la the Da Vinci Code. Maybe I could be the Mary Magdalene to their Priory of Sion and they could cleverly work my visage into their paintings.
So I sent an email to the address posted on their website. Dear Bruces, I wrote. This is Reverend Jen. I plan on covering the Brucennial for Artnet Magazine. I’d love to meet you guys.
The response came in short order, though it wasn’t very mysterious.
No problem. Come by Thursday when we’re installing the show and someone will talk to you.
Seeing as how it was only Tuesday, I had some time to kill. The Whitney Biennial was opening that night, and I had actually been invited -- so I decided to go. It’s not as good as exhibiting in the biennial, but over the years I’ve learned to take what I can get.
As my date I brought my friend, Moonshine Shorey, a two-time winner of the "Mr. Lower East Side" pageant who can chug a six-pack of beer in under a minute. I’d recently painted his portrait and submitted it to the Pabst Blue Ribbon Art Contest. I could have a year of free beer in my future -- keep your fingers crossed, will you?
The invitation called for "festive attire," so I put on a velveteen hot-pant romper and my baby blue go-go boots, which have seen better days. The soles of the boots are so worn that as I descended the stairs from my fifth-floor apartment I slipped and fell in a very "un-festive" manner. By the time I hooked up with Moonshine, my knees were bleeding through my Lurex tights.
"Bloody knees are kind of a good look for you," said Moonshine, not altogether unsympathetically. "It’s sort of trashy."
"And Goth too," I noted.
The Bruces have a work in the Whitney show, a 1960s-era Cadillac ambulance painted gloss white with a video projecting from inside onto its cracked windshield. Titled We Like America and America Likes Us (after Joseph Beuys’ 1974 performance in New York), the sculpture sits in a dimly lit gallery while a woman’s voice comes from within, telling a complex story of her love/hate relationship with America, which she calls "a powerful and convincing lover."
Seemed rather serious for the Bruces!
Anyway, after checking out the rest of the show, Moonshine and I headed back to the Lower East Side so Moonie could pick up his shift bartending at Mars Bar, a place as unlike Madison Avenue as any on earth.
The following day I woke up with a brand new ailment -- an agonizing toothache. Self-medicating with cheap domestic beer hardly helped, so on Thursday morning I dropped in at "Smile America," the sliding-scale ghetto dental clinic where nobody smiles except when they leave, often with a few less teeth than before.
After having my infected tooth scraped by a Russian lady who ignored my pleas for Nitrous, I walked over to 350 West Broadway in SoHo, site of the "Brucennial." As it turns out, the address hides no magick or Gryphons, but is rather a bright space that looks like any other raw SoHo storefront.
Concealing my disappointment, I wandered inside where my frown quickly turned upside down. Young men buzzed all around like Carhartt-clad, pheromone-releasing honeybees, busily hanging art and drilling into things -- a sea of palpable male energy.
I noticed a bespectacled brainy-looking fellow who seemed to be overseeing the whole endeavor. Could he be a Bruce?
"Hi, I’m Rev. Jen," I mumbled out of the one side of my mouth that wasn’t numb. "Can you tell me a little bit about your show?"
"Sure," he said. "It’s curated this from the bottom up."
"There’s no curating. We just called all our friends."
This guy was obviously a professional, because everyone knows that all contemporary art shows are curated this way. And since Julian Schnabel, George Condo and Francesco Clemente are some of the artists in the show, the Bruces must have some very well known friends.
"So what’s on the agenda for today?"
"We’re just trying to fit everything on the walls," he said, pointing to the loads of art still wrapped in bubble wrap. I left him alone so he could do just that.
The rusted frame and motor of an old automobile sat at the front of the room. I wondered if the Bruces were going to do a Grease Lightning style dance routine around it, refurbishing it into a racecar.
"What’s going on here?" I asked someone.
"It’s the motor of the ambulance that’s in the Whitney."
Walking around, I noticed the random fashion in which the art was being displayed. Clearly, fitting it all in trumped all other curatorial concerns.
A photograph of Terry Richardson with a surrealistically long penis was displayed next to a tiny, sad painting of a dog with another dog’s head sewn onto its chest. Next to it hung a piece of cardboard covered in gold reflective paper and next to that was a large photo of a brunette with her boob out. A tiny painting of a sea lion with a pacifier in its mouth was propped against a wall near a pedestal upon which a doll with a toy bunny’s head wore a mask and held a feather duster. In the corner stairwell, a droning noise emanated from a heap of cardboard that moved up and down like it was breathing.
High on the wall above was a giant poster by "Artblahg" that urged everyone to "reject the commercialization and join your brothers and sisters in a toast to a new era."
A toast or two was definitely part of my future plans, but for the time being I went around the corner onto Grand Street, where the Bruce High Quality Foundation University has set up shop. Obviously, a piñata class had been in session as several half-finished piñatas dried on a table.
On the wall were the results of BHQFU’s "Occult Shenanigans" class, which predicts an upcoming "dolphin poetry" fad, rainbow mice being sold at Petland Discounts, and at some point, Obama getting pregnant.
Later that night I came back for the opening, which was so jammed that a huge line had formed outside to get in, despite the treacherous snowstorm. Inside, I noticed Lauren Hutton, several other celebutantes and one dude with a French accent who said he wanted to "corrupt me."
"Good luck with that," I said and told him to buy my book.
REVEREND JEN is the author of Live Nude Elf: The Sexperiments of Reverend Jen (Soft Skull Press, 2009), available on Amazon for $10.17 ($14.95 list price).