THE REAL POOP ON LONDON’S SHIT ARTIST
Who is the most -- shall we say "execrable?" -- man in the London art world? One willing candidate is Russian artist Alexander Brener, known for guerrilla stunts in which he defecates in art galleries. Brener, who was born in Kazakhstan in 1957, interrupted a panel on "Extreme Curating" at the ICA last September by pooping in his own hand and offering it to the panelists, while he was ejected from Gagosian Gallery’s London outpost this February by security guards before he could drop trou. Earlier in his career, Brener spray-painted a green dollar sign on a Kazimir Malevich painting of a white cross at Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum. Most recently, he caused a stink at an opening at The Approach W1, shitting in his hand and smearing the word "Sold Out" on the window in excrement, much to the consternation of gallery owner Jake Miller.
The London art world has largely dealt with Brener by ignoring his antics, denying him any publicity. At the same time, the artist’s all-consuming dislike for commercialism and search for fresh places to poop has led him to target smaller and smaller venues -- blogger and Russian art expert Matthew Bown even suggested recently that Brener had exhausted London’s "smallish events and institutions," and that he would have to return to more obvious targets if his gestures were to have any meaning (see www.izo.com/alexander-brener). This downward trajectory reached a kind of climax last night, Mar. 16, 2009, when Brener was ejected from a talk at Trolley Gallery.
The occasion was a panel moderated by Artnet Magazine writer Laura K. Jones, who had devoted an unflattering reference to Brener’s uninvited intervention at the Approach in a recent dispatch, terming it "a sixth-former’s point about capitalism" [see "London Dispatch", Mar. 13, 2009]. The panel involved Boo Saville (who was showing a suite of enigmatic images of archeological fragments at the gallery) and painter Rachel Howard, and drew a crowd of about 50 people. About ten minutes into the event, according to observers, it became clear that Brener was in the audience and might be planning to take a dump on the spot -- several other audience members were from galleries that had run-ins with the artist in the past -- causing Trolley co-owner Hannah Watson to confront him. "I know who you are," she said. "I think you should leave. I know what you're about to do."
In the brief scuffle that followed, Brener and his partner, Barbara Schurz -- known for public masturbation and urination alongside her husband -- refused to leave. In Jones’ account, when Bremer was identified, he stood and cried out, "Yes, and we know you and this capitalist shit. What is this? This talk. This art. This is capitalist shit." In the ensuing exchange, Jones said she would physically stop him if he tried to take his pants down, and Brener dared her to try. After more angry words, Trolley co-owner Gigi Gianuzzi forced the pair to leave. They exited decrying the audience as "capitalist scum."
Whatever their intention, in this case it appears that Brener and Co. have laid a proverbial egg. Trolley Gallery makes a poor target for Brener’s wrath, Jones emphasizes. "Everything it makes on gallery sales it plunges back into the artists books they publish," she says. "They don’t make a penny." Founded in 2001 as an "inclusive environment and art space," Trolley doubles as living quarters for co-owner Gianuzzi, and dedicates resources to a charity that supports artist books (recent publications include a collection of social documentary photography by Philip Jones Griffiths and a political photo essay called America Off Track by Jarret Schecter). Its gallery is reserved for artists with little proven commercial track record. It is, in Gianuzzi’s words, the "antithesis of the big galleries that this guy might hate."
Despite the spectacular disruption, the panel continued for another 45 minutes following the departure of Brener and Schurz. "It turned into a really nice discussion," Gianuzzi says. "Laura did a great job. People had a chance to meet the artist. It was a great night -- I don’t want to remember it for this little scuffle with this frustrated guy."
CUTS IN MINNEAPOLIS, DENVER
Minneapolis’ avant-garde powerhouse the Walker Art Center and Denver’s small Museum of Contemporary Art are the latest institutions to take hits from the recession. The Walker announced that it was cutting expenses in the next fiscal year by an additional $900,000, on top of a previous trim of $1.1 million, bringing its overall budget down to $19.3 million. In addition to a hiring freeze, the Walker is requiring its staff to take five days of unpaid leave before June 15, 2009 -- which works out to a two percent pay cut for the year. Director Olga Viso told the Star-Tribune that large anonymous donations had saved "[m]ore than five, but less than 20" jobs this year.
The Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, meanwhile, eliminated four positions (out of a total of 20), including its communications manager, the director’s executive assistant and employees in the education and tech departments, all in an effort to trim the budget by $2 million. In a rather stark turn of phrase, the museum's Karl Kister told the Denver Post, "We need to be in a position where we can survive 2009."
Lorenzo Rudolf, the founding director of ShContemporary, seems to think the swanky Shanghai-based fair should cancel its next installment, planned to take place Sept. 10-13, 2009. But the fair’s organizing company, BolognaFiereSpa, has other ideas, and as a consequence Rudolf is out. The fair goes ahead under the direction of Colin Chinnery, one-time deputy director of Beijing’s Ullens Center for Contemporary Art. Sales at the annual affair have been uneven in the past, though hopes were high that it would prime the pump of the Asian art market [see "The China Price,", Sept. 19, 2008].
"JENNIFER" SHOW TOURING
How’s for a show concept -- a travelling art show dedicated purely to artists named "Jennifer?" It may sounds like a joke, but "Jen 11," organized by Jennifer Khoshbin and accompanied by a book, has a serious mission: It claims to explore the psychology of the "Jen-eration," the huge number of women who were named "Jennifer" in the ‘70s (when it was the most popular name for girls) and ‘80s (when it was number two). Artists are Jennifer Altman, Jennifer Bradford, Jennifer Celio, Jennifer Garrido, Jennifer Gotch, Jennifer Hsieh, Jennifer Maestre, Jennifer Judd-McGee, Khoshbin, Jennifer McNeely and Jennifer Renninger. The show opens at New Hampshire’s Artstream gallery, in Rochester, N.H., Apr. 3-30, 2009. See www.jen11show.com