Located in the former Deitch Projects building at 18 Wooster St., Swiss Institute‘s current set of exhibitions opened with a line out the door on March 7, running through April 15. Three shows are on view: Nicholas Party’s Still life, Stones and Elephants, Pati Hertling’s curatory project Heart to Hand, featuring work by Zoe Leonard, Klara Liden, Adam Pendleton and brothers and collaborators Oscar Tuazon and Elias Hansen, and downstairs Jimmie Durham’s Marquette for a Museum of Switzerland. Split between the several artists, the show begins with a colorful entrance, a large open main space split in two—half the floor raised, half reappropriated as sculpture—and a basement of semi-faux artifacts.
Entry to the multi-level space first provides the viewer with an immersive environment conceptualized by Nicholas Party, titled Still Life, Stones and Elephants. A seemingly light-hearted, endless array of spray painted dust blue patterns tumble up the walls, while on the floor sit trompe l’oeil rock-fruits and squat cubes draped in painted elephants. Amidst the patterned walls are several large charcoal drawings “framed” by Party’s contemporary approach to traditional Renaissance gold leaf. The artist’s choice of charcoal, spray paint, and gold leaf as the primary media reflects his interest in the reaction these three historically important trends might create in one space, adding a certain gravity to the lightness of fruit and a breath of relief to the history of art.
The Pati Hertling curated Heart to Hand beckons from the larger, brighter second room. A group show featuring work by Zoe Leonard, Klara Liden, Adam Pendleton, Oscar Tuazon, and Elias Hansen, Heart to Hand is perhaps a more politically relevant organization. Ideas of independence, rebellion, and occupation are on display and in contention with the concept of “doing the best you can do with a given context.” The raised floor had been built by Deitch Projects but is now half demolished and re-imagined by Tuazon and Hansen in the sculptural stacks of plywood and leaning beams redistributed throughout the space.
In the basement, Johnny Durham’s Maquette for a Museum of Switzerland is presented as a metaphor of the ethnographic museum. Much as the American history books emphasize certain “facts” and downplay or omit other, truer events, Durham has taken the initiative to create a museum that “explains” Switzerland to the world through his own comi-tragic folklore. Lining the left and far wall are photographs of traditional Swiss mountain masks which lack proper documentation. They appear African or at turns Central/South American, but were in fact—supposedly, according to the director—created to scare the winter out of the Alps. Durham further constructed two of his own winter masks, heightening the tension between context and history while writing his own legend. To the right several vitrines are filled with more contemporary Swiss artifacts, including a special cabbage sausage that had to be smuggled into the U.S. for health and safety reasons. Accompanying the works throughout the room, a number of hand-written semi-historical accounts regarding the various artifacts combine fact and imagination.
Nicholas Party: Still Life, Stones and Elephants [Swiss Institute]
Jimmie Durham: Marquette for a Museum of Switzerland [Swiss Institute]
Curated by Pati Hertling: Heart to Hand [Swiss Institute]
Out There | Pati Hertling’s Night Job [New York Times]