We entered the Bruce High Quality Foundation exhibit “Ode To Joy 2001-2013” at the Brooklyn Museum with limited knowledge of the collective’s history, and left even more confused. This band of merry pranksters have spent the last decade making films, forming sculptures, enacting stunts, and teaching the masses. This show feels like walking into an inside joke where you can see that it’s funny, but you immediately need to go home and Google the references.
We were met at the door to the exhibit with a standard mop bucket serenading museum goers with the operatic “Con Te Partiro” by Andrea Bocelli. My preschool age son was amazed at this simple trick. Inside the glass doors, a dimly lit room was engulfed by an enormous inflatable rat that rhythmically re-inflated so it looked like it was breathing. A commentary on organized labor in this country, the rat also stunned my son into speechlessness as he worked out whether it was alive.
BHQF is an anonymous collective of artists who go by the fictional persona of an artist who died in 9/11. They give interviews as one entity and remain faceless even in their art world pranks. Insiders pretending to be outsiders, they are art world reactionaries. For instance, they don football gear and “tackle” public artworks across Manhattan. When artist Udo Rondinone hung the rainbow colored sign “Hell Yes” outside the Bowery’s New Museum, they hung their own matching sign across the street which said “Heaven Forbid.” In 2002, they launched a full scale restaging of the Broadway show CATS in Brooklyn to comment on gentrification in the neighborhood. Photos and relics of these and other stunts litter this exhibit, but without knowing the collective’s history, it is impossible to piece together the puzzle.
The artwork is visually stimulating with themes ranging from masked self portraits to the stock market crash. They’ve replicated and tweaked famous artworks like Picasso’s “Desmoiselle’s d’Avignon” and my son loved peeling away the accompanying page (just like a Lift the Flap Book) to see the original pieces. The film “Art History With Food” had animated hamburgers and cookies exploring the topic, which my son found delightful. The highlight for us was the meticulous reconstruction of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Greek and Roman Collections… all sculpted with play-dough.
The last room of the show feels like you’re walking into a war torn classroom. Messy chalkboards and workspaces engulf the space, perhaps representing our disordered and overly expensive education system. In 2009, BHQF founded an actual un-accredited art school called Bruce High Quality Foundation University (now housed on Avenue A) which offers FREE arts education to anyone who signs up. As I daydream about my kid’s college 529 savings plan, this is the kind of art I can get behind.
After a day at one of Brooklyn’s top museums, it only seemed fitting to eat at one of Brooklyn’s top foodie institutions: Franny’s. The 10-minute hike across Grand Army Plaza was worth it for the best crispy, cheezy, and gooey tomato, basil and buffalo mozzarella pizza ($16) and exquisite mint gelato ($9).
The Bruce High Quality Foundation: Ode to Joy, 2001-2013
Through September 22, 2013
Robert E. Blum Gallery, 1st Floor
Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway, Prospect Heights. Wednesday: 11am- 6pm; Thursday: 11am- 10pm; Friday- Sunday: 11am- 6pm. Suggested Contribution $12; students with valid ID $8; Children under 12 free.
Franny’s, 348 Flatbush Avenue, Prospect Heights, 718.230.0221, now open for lunch seven days a week.