In keeping with their aspirations to “invest the experience of public space with wonder,” The Bruce High Quality Foundation is currently exhibiting Art History With Labor in New York’s Lever House Art Collection through September 28th. The exhibit consists of three pieces on display in the open-air courtyard and the glass-walled lobby of the Lever House.
The cast-bronze shell of “The New Colossus” stands guard outside: it is a twelve-foot rat, the dimensions modeled after the inflatable icon of American labor unions used to protest the use of strikebreakers. Solidifying the image in the more permanent casing, the artists create a smooth, sleek, industrial image that recalls the very mechanization it originally mocked.
Inside, the immaculate marble and red-roped lobby is littered with overturned file cabinets, dangling loose wires, and an assortment of jerry-rigged home appliances that make up “Art History With Labor: 95 Theses.” Martin Luther’s nail has been transformed to accommodate the physical history of art’s relationship to labor movements. A video screen plays back the Foundation’s modernized theses, a soundtrack of ninety-five call-and-response ruminations on the industrialized workforce. The voices fill the lobby, providing the sheer corporate space with lines that alternately satirize and lionize its subject matter: number two reiterates Al Capp’s proclamation that “anyone who can walk to the welfare office can walk to work,” just as anyone who can raise a flag can do it twice.
“Double Iwo Jima” is a two-paneled silkscreened painting of America’s most famous wartime image. The flag hoisted on Mt. Suribachi in 1945 was actually raised twice, the photo recreated after the first flag was deemed too small to be seen by ships docking at the nearby beach. The artists recall Andy Warhol’s pop sensibility by laying bare the repetition and mechanization required to achieve the desired effect, simultaneously alluding to the assembly-line production inherent to the silkscreen medium.
The Bruce High Quality Foundation formed in 2004 and continues to be based in Brooklyn, NY. The group established The Bruce High Quality Foundation University in 2009 in an attempt to combat the rising costs of accredited art education. They also host regular workshops and events around New York City, a schedule of which can be found below.
– G. Corrigan
All photos courtesy of the Lever House Art Collection