Now in its third edition, the biannual open-call exhibition known as the “Brucennial,” Feb. 29-Apr. 1, 2012, has become a sort of populist counterpart to the Whitney Biennial. Sprawling, unkempt and disorganized, the Brucennial is also immensely popular. Around 400 artists are included this year (up from 320 or so in the 2010 edition), and it seemed like all of them, plus a good number of their friends, mobbed the show’s opening at the old Circle in the Square Theater at 159 Bleecker Street in NoHo on Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012.
A roped-off crowd stretched down the block, with someone approaching the frazzled doorwoman for entry every 30 seconds or so, claiming to be an artist in the exhibition. “I know,” she’d repeat. “Everyone here is an artist.”
Admittance was easier, of course, if you had a name to drop. “I’m a friend of Vito’s,” one man announced, and was instantly ushered in. That’s Vito Schnabel, of course, the young art-dealer son of Julian. Vito helped organize the event with the Bruce High Quality Foundation, the now-established collective of former Cooper Union students (which made it into the real Whitney Biennial in 2010).
Most artists who submitted their work to the Brucennial were accepted-- which means that exhibitors only had to be clever enough to scrounge up an email for Rhys Gaetano or Matt Alie or someone else associated with the Bruce team, whose members are supposed to be anonymous, though by now they’re known by a fairly large number of “insiders.”
The 2012 Brucennial, as previous editions, is a high-meets-low roster of unknowns, friends of the Bruces, and the occasional art star, like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Damien Hirst, Julian Schnabel or Andy Warhol. One artist arrived with a work in hand and tacked it up during the opening. The line between underdog and establishment is apparently one the Bruce High Quality Foundation is happy to efface.
Works are hung salon style across three levels of the old theater, supposedly installed at random, wherever they fit. Some of the big names appeared front and center, however, including a black-and-white Basquiat, an Albert Oehlen painting, a Cindy Sherman portrait, a Damien Hirst spot painting and a Keith Haring ink drawing. On the floor, large swirly green letters spelled out the name of painter Josh Smith.
Nowadays the Bruce High Quality Foundation is busy opposing Cooper Union’s controversial proposal to charge tuition at the historically free art school. They recently took out a full-page ad in Artforum urging readers to pressure the administration to preserve the “truest example of meritocratic education.” This weekend the group is staging “Animal Farm: A Musical” at the Brucennial, a production that parodies Cooper Union’s real-life dilemma.
“In 2012, The Bruce High Quality Foundation University is in crisis,” reads a description of the event. “Faced with overwhelming debts, the Chicken Trustees of the school may be forced to compromise its 150 year legacy and do the unthinkable: charge tuition. Luckily, the graduating Piggy Artists of the class of 2012 have something else in mind.”
The show is chaotic but gem-studded, and everything is supposedly for sale. Judge for yourself with this slideshow.