“Empire State,” a classic nickname denoting New York’s central position in the art world, takes a new spin in Rome this summer, thanks to the curatorial talents of Alex Gartenfeld and Norman Rosenthal.
Exploring the implications for New York City’s fabled nickname, running the spectrum from references to political theorist Antonio Negri to rapper Jay-Z, in the context of the fabled past of Roman world dominance at the dawn of Common Era, Rosenthal and Gartenfeld have assembled a show of works exploring the new roles that economic production, the proliferation of mass culture and the explosion of the contemporary art market have had in shaping the art of the American city. It’s a strikingly diverse show, pulling from the broad range of production methods, artistic communities and schools of thought to exhibit pieces by Jeff Koons, Tabor Robak (who presents his work for the first time outside the U.S.), Uri Aran, Dan Graham, and Virginia Overton, among many others.
The result is a bold show, using all the implications of the term empire to launch studied inquiries into new roles for industrial production, cultural appropriation and technological development in the realm of contemporary art. Emphasizing the artist’s position in a culture marked by its emphasis on technological ascendency and meticulous production techniques, the work explores the relationship of creativity to economic values, and examines the broader relationship of artists’ cultural and political criticism as bound up in the socio-political milieu of their homeland. Combining this exploration with the exhibition’s location in Rome, the show also examines the interrelations between sites of control, and the interplay of history and art over several millennia.
Placed at the center of the American “Empire,” these New York artists become something of a microcosm for the broader American conscious, their work often serving as both commentary on and consumable product of the American landscape, a focal point of capitalist systems and wide-ranging artistic practice. The inclusion of Robak, as well as a number of works by Reena Spaulings and Art Club 2000 members works even further into this line of questioning, illustrating not only creative responses to capitalist valuation, but the broader context these works often are classified against. The work becomes both portrait and process, showing the inner workings of the American art world while often working in, and occasionally, against it.
Empire State (Installation View), via Palazzo Delle Esposizioni
Often, the discussion of technology and globalization paints an overly simplistic picture of the global flows of money, influence, and power, singing the praises of a connected society that brings broader access to users around the world. The converse image, that of increasing consolidation of resources, manpower and wealth around urban centers like New York is easily ignored, and it is this phenomenon that Gartenfeld and Rosenthal bring to bear. Challenging the image of the “Empire State” as either artistic paradise or global financial oligarch, their show seeks to bring a more cohesive perspective, reflecting on a society where both images are becoming increasingly interdependent.
Empire State is on view until July 21st.