"No Soul For Sale," June 24-28, 2009, at X-Initiative, 548 West 22nd Street, New York, N.Y. 10011
Tuesday night at "No Soul for Sale," a makeshift four-day art fair ending this Sunday, I caught an enticing, exciting glimpse of one of the ways the near future may look. The intrepid X-initiative, housed for the next nine months in the former Dia building on West 22nd Street, is staging what it calls an exercise in "radical hospitality," inviting more than 30 respected not-for-profit centers, alternative institutions, artist collectives and independent enterprises from New York, the U.S. and around the world to exhibit whatever they want in blocks of space that have been marked out on the floor, spread out over three floors and the roof. The spaces are free. X says these participants form "a convention of individuals and groups who have devoted their energies to keeping art alive."
These groups and individuals seem to have figured out that one of the big secrets of the moment is that the only thing that has really changed about the art world is that money is out of the picture. Other than that, art gets made -- it still costs around $100 to make a painting, people are starting new spaces and finding new ways to distribute information, and there’s always an eager audience even if there aren’t many avid collectors. We’re in a period when art isn’t fashion. . . and that’s great, and greatly liberating. As the art world continues to contract over the next two years, keep your eye on many of the spaces housed here. Each is finding ways around the problem of dipping into the same familiar well of already established artists. "No Soul" delves into areas of the art world that most of us barley know exists.
Here you’ll see video, films, magazines, a lounge in a tent, a sonic bed, prints, paintings, video games, inflated rooms, a platform with indoor sod and some sort of entertainment center or bar in what used to be the freight elevator. I found art for sale for as little as $30. At a renegade space called "Black Market" you can purchase one of 50 tote bags filled with merchandise that the artist Rob Pruitt shoplifted; the bags are emblazoned with bootleg versions of Barbara Kruger’s famous "I Shop Therefore I Am" image. One of my favorite spaces here, from Milan, is named Lucie Fontaine, after the current artist collective Claire Fontaine. In addition, all the art handlers who work for X have been allowed a space to hang their work, as well. There are even going to be performances on the roof every night from 9 to 11 p.m.
"No Soul" is a tremendous exercise in inclusiveness with a very high level of quality. There are organizations from Hong Kong, Dublin, Barcelona, Trinidad, Reykjavik and Marfa. What’s so thrilling about "No Soul" is that it proves that groups of young people all over the world are carrying on despite the economic hardships and exhibiting interesting new work. Whatever becomes of these spaces in the future -- and one can only imagine more of them popping up in more places -- if you want to feel good about what’s bubbling up in the present, make it your business to visit "No Soul for Sale."
JERRY SALTZ is art critic for New York magazine, where a slightly shorter version of this essay first appeared. He can be reached at email@example.com.