Bruce High Quality Foundation
The Bruce High Quality Foundation is an arts collective in Brooklyn, New York City, the United States, which was "created to foster an alternative to everything." The collective is made up of five to eight rotating and anonymous members, most or all of whom are Cooper Union graduates. The group has attracted attention with the subversive, humorous and erudite style of their work and operates an unaccredited art school, the Bruce High Quality Foundation University.
History and work
The collective was formed in 2004. Its members remain anonymous, in protest against the "star-making machinery of the art market", but it is known that they are a group of mostly men and some women, and that some of them met and became friends while studying art at Cooper Union. The group is named after a fictional artist, "Bruce High Quality", who supposedly perished in the 9/11 attack.
In 2005, the Whitney Museum collaborated with Minetta Brook, Robert Smithson's estate, and James Cohan Gallery to sponsor the construction of Robert Smithson's "Floating Island", a floating island of parkland tugged around New York Harbor, inspired by a 1970 drawing by Robert Smithson, entitled "Floating Island to Travel Around Manhattan Island". The island, complete with living trees, was pulled by a tugboat. The Bruce High Quality Foundation responded to the event with their own performance, titled "The Gate: Not the Idea of the Thing but the Thing Itself", in which members of the collective pursued the Smithson island in a small skiff carrying a model of one of the orange gates by Christo and Jeanne-Claude that had been displayed in Central Park earlier that year.
"Public Sculpture Tackle", an ongoing work begun in 2007 and documented on video, features one of the members of the collective, wearing "quasi-football gear", climbing, hurling himself against or hanging from various public sculptures in Manhattan. In the fall of 2007, when Ugo Rondinone displayed a rainbow-coloured sign saying "Hell Yes" on the New Museum, the Bruce High Quality Foundation suspended a similar sign saying "Heaven Forbid" from the building opposite.
The collective's first show in a commercial New York gallery was "The Retrospective" in 2008, employing "an implicitly satiric, reactive style". The collective has produced a film, Isle of the Dead, which was shown in 2009 at the "Plot/09 – This World & Nearer Ones" exhibition organized by Creative Time on Governors Island. A send-up of Night of the Living Dead, the film chronicles the death and zombie-led revival of the art world.
The group's December 2009 show in Miami was curated by Vito Schnabel, son of the artist Julian Schnabel, and attended by New York's rich and famous, guests including the shipping heir Stavros Niarchos III, newsprint billionaire Peter Brant, actor Stephen Dorff and John McEnroe. The Bruce High Quality Foundation was among the artists represented at the 2010 Whitney Biennial.
In 2013, the Bruce High Quality Foundation was the subject of a retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum and exhibited work in Switzerland, Germany. London, Dubai, and Washington. In November 2013 the group opened "Meditations", a single show in two New York galleries. The works duplicated antiquities from the Metropolitan Museum in a Play-Doh-like modeling clay. Later in the month, a silkscreen by the foundation, "Hooverville," depicting the New York skyline with hobos, sold for $425,000 at Sotheby's.
The Bruce High Quality Foundation University
In July 2009, four members of the group gave a lecture-performance at the Harris Lieberman Gallery in New York, entitled "How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Bull". The title mimicked that of Joseph Beuys' 1965 performance, "How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare", with the dead bull in the title representing economic recession. Although accompanied by humorous and irreverent slides, the lecture had a serious intent, examining the current relationship between contemporary art, the art market and art schools, and ended with the question: "How can we imagine a sustainable alternative to professionalized art education?"
In the fall of 2009, the group presented its own answer, by founding an unaccredited art school, the Bruce High Quality Foundation University, where "students are teachers are administrators are staff." The school is located in downtown Manhattan, in premises made available by an unnamed benefactor. Presented with partial support by public arts organization Creative Time, it has offered students free classes for "an education in metaphor manipulation", the main focus of the curriculum being on art history and studio critiques. Lecture topics have included "Occult Shenanigans in 20th/21st-Century Art", "What’s a Metaphor?", "The B.H.Q.F.U. Detective Agency" and "Edifying".
In the spring of 2013, the school re-opened in the Lower East Side, Manhattan with new curricula such as "Math Wipe" by Dmitry Samochine, "Generative Design—Model Assembly" by Sanam Salek, and a class about Japanese art in Japanese language by Nozomi Kato.
The Bruce High Quality Foundation has been widely covered in The New York Times. In September 2009, art critic Roberta Smith wrote that the group "has been best known for a sharp, well-aimed and unusually entertaining form of institutional critique." Julia Chaplin, also writing in the New York Times, said in December 2009 that the group was known for its "subversive performance art, humorous videos and conceptual sculptures all infused with Ph.D. quantities of art history references" and had "become the darlings of the art world". In December 2013, Jesse McKinley further explained, "Devoted to the idea that an artwork should stand on its own — without the artist’s identity or biography affecting its worth — the group’s no-name ethos has, perhaps intentionally, proven to be a potent and lucrative creative tool for members and a seductive draw for collectors."
Not all reviews of the group's work have been positive. New York Magazine derided the group's anonymous conceit as "pretentious drapery", while judging the show “Meditations” to be “kind of interestingly pretentious".
The Bruce High Quality Foundation is part of a long history of artists using fictional identities in contemporary art, although the use of pseudonyms in the literary world has a much richer and more established tradition.
Rrose Sélavy was just one of the pseudonyms used by the artist Marcel Duchamp as early as 1921. In the late 1990s, the artist Walid Raad began constructing elaborate fictions chronicling the contemporary history of his native Lebanon, signing his work The Atlas Group and presenting it as a body of collective scholarship. In 2003, Jeff Wassmann launched The Wassmann Foundation, Washington, D.C., representing the fictitious estate of the early Leipzig modernist and sewerage engineer Johann Dieter Wassmann (1841-1898). Mr Wassmann is, in fact, a contemporary artist living in Melbourne, Australia. Banksy is the pseudonym of a Bristol-born graffiti artist and political activist working since the late 1980s. For over twenty years Banksy has successfully hidden his identity from the general public.
All of these artists scrutinize the ever-increasing presence of artist, curator and art institution alike, as brands. In establishing artist and institution as conceits, the projects are free to explore these roles as pure brand, largely existent for critical assessment.
The Bruce High Quality Foundation University closed in 2017.
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