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DOWNTOWN SALON
by Ilka Scobie
 
Deitch Projects gallery director Nicola Vassell has had a busy spring. In addition to coordinating the gallery’s recent Francesco Clemente exhibition and accompanying catalogue, "Francesco Clemente Works 1971-1979," which was on view May 3-June 2, 2007, she also organized the sumptuous 150-person Indian feast to honor the artist. Guests ranged from Charlie Rose and Diane von Furstenberg to Philip Taafe and Adam McEwen. The almost 100 works in the exhibition document the development of Clemente’s creative vision.

On top of that, Vassell coordinated the gallery’s May 2006 publication of Jean-Michel Basquiat 1981: Studio of the Streets. Unlike the tabloid headlines that have come to characterize Basquiat’s life, this portrait presents an intimate vision of the mercurial artist by friends like Glenn O’Brien, Suzanne Mallouf and Diego Cortez. Vassell saw her role as "letting the interviews speak for themselves" and helping to add a more human dimension to Basquiat’s larger-than-life status.

Vassell began working in the art world only two years ago, after coming to New York from Jamaica to work as a model and attending NYU. "I’m glad I got the chance to start out at Deitch Projects," she said. "There is so much fluidity. You get to learn everything. Jeffrey gets the credit for allowing that kind of space."

This spring Vassell also organized her own exhibition project, titled "Powers of 10: Successive Orders of Formal and Psychological Magnitude." The show features work by Stefan Bondell, Kathy Grayson, Alex Kwatter, Lola Schnabel, Kon Trubovich and Dustin Yellin. I asked Nicola how the show came into being.

"The notion of the salon came up as a sort of rebellion against the capitalistic overdrive of the art world. I’ve always felt that the purpose of art is to enchant, whether it’s the viewer being enchanted for just a second, a collector for a lifetime, or the artist being enchanted by the process. On every level I just felt that there was a loss intimacy.

"A number of young artists are doing work that reflects this situation, artists who capture a quieter, singular, very contemporary view of things. It needs a more intimate, personal space for its display, and it’s about feeling something and just doing it without a lot of big money and big structures. So I’ve launched this exhibition as a salon in my apartment, and I hope to carry it on until July 30, 2007."

The seven artists’ personal visual significations are united by a powerful immediacy, an almost shamanistic eventuality. Bondell’s mystical amoebic imagery, Grayson’s painterly striated family scenes, Schnabel’s haunted expressionistic portraiture and Yellin’s process-driven dimensional drawings represent explorations that are individual and energetic.

Working on the Basquiat book, Vassell was inspired by the vital downtown ambience of that seminal year, 1981. She sees her salon as part of a downtown resurgence. "Chelsea exemplifies the state we’re in, with hundreds of white cube galleries. I think there’s going to be a shift from Chelsea to downtown and I think it’s important to be part of that. It’s intimacy and enchantment that led me to this show. This show exemplifies the downtown spirit we’re trying to bring back.

"Essentially, I feel if there is any circumstances that lets you break the rules, it’s in the art world. That’s where innovation and inspiration can be found. Throwing away of the old rules and making new ones.

"We are on the brink of that change now," Vassell declared, "and just because things have gotten out of hand, I am going to try to lead the charge."

The "Powers of 10" salon is open by appointment; contact nicola@deitch.com.


ILKA SCOBIE is a poet.