I can’t think of a welcomer antidote to the downtown New York art scene, which–in every decade since the New York School–has been defined in the pop imagination by great white males and their attendant mythologies, than the New Museum’s second triennial, The Ungovernables. The exhibit opened on Tuesday and fills every booming floor of the Bowery institution; when I got in the elevator to go from the fifth to first, I found myself mixed in with all the artists fresh off their photo op, and it was like some kinda post-graduate model UN. Shouldn’t be this radical, but feels like it: 34 artists and art collectives genuinely from all over (only four live in New York; only two are American) and all under the age of Jesus, contributing work undictated by trend or curator’s mandate. Eungie Joo chose many who’d never exhibited in the U.S., and for a loose theme, went with “ungovernability” to suggest “both anarchic and organized disobedience.” The result is a discombobulated, post-colonial salmigondis with more than a few works that teach and wow.
And there’s a Canadian in there: Julia Dault, the Toronto native and former National Post art critic who decamped to get her MFA at Parsons; she graduated in 2008 and has been living and art-making in Brooklyn since. Her recent series, so far a 20-sculpture revelation of labour and thrift in a decadent age, is represented at the New Museum with Untitled 19 and Untitled 20, along with a small-ish complementary painting (“it’s black oil paint scraped off fake alligator skin, super bling,” says Dault). Both the sculptures are stamped with the amount of time it took her to force them into being, in situ, on the third floor. We sat down on a piece of art (no, really; that was allowed) to discuss handmaking, “authenticity,” and art versus craft.
How long did Untitled 19 take?
This one in the end it’s five, five and a half hours. Part of it came out of–someone can look at this and say, okay, it’s a sculpture. But how do I convey to the viewer how long it took? Because so much of it is about what I can do as a maker. So the struggle–the end result is what you see. But how do I convey this information. The time stamp is how I’ve figured out to convey that.
I think a lot of artists would be afraid to reveal that–epescially the ones who don’t make their own work.
Exactly, in a way it’s a commentary on direct labour and transparency. I was so tired of seeing work where I’d fail to see the actual work; I didn’t understand how it was made. So how do you produce or make a sculpture that’s transparent, or what I call anti-illusionistic? By looking at it you can see, oh, that knot is holding the plexi around, or you can look behind and see how it’s tethered to the wall. So to the viewer it’s a more direct relationship between you and me.
You’re taking some of the magic out of it; are you also busting the myth of how art “happens?”
Well, so that’s the thing. I feel like I still manage to maintain a mystery around it, because you can understand, and yet the form is so weird. So it still has an element of, huh? And there’s a subject. There’s someone making the decisions about the colour combinations, the bands of material.
Now if you become an enormous artist, would you need to still make everything yourself?
I’m actually thinking about that now, because someone said what happens when you die, like, what’s your legacy. So what I’m doing is training people who are my size and I have specific instructions about how they’re made. So say I make this piece again. I can’t ever make it again exactly the way it is now, but it’ll still be called Untitled 19, and the date stamp changes, and whoever makes it–if it’s not me–I’ve sanctioned their building and they’ll be credited. It’s totally not me to have minions making my work and me getting all the credit.
No one can buy the instruction manual and make it themselves, right?
No. It has to be built by someone I’ve sanctioned. And there’s a certificate of authenticity.
Are you interested in fashion?
There seems to be an analogue with fashion, in terms of the materiality and the issues about authenticity and making in your work. With the recession, and with the problem of knock-offs, high-end fashion manufacturers increasingly had to justify why things were so expensive. So there’s a lot of emphasis on what goes into each product, the materials, the hand labour. Handbags have certificates of authenticity, like your sculptures. And I was at an exhibit–was it McQueen? No, it was Jean Paul Gaultier in Montreal–where each couture gown was tagged with the number of hours it took to physically make. 124 hours, 169 hours. It was amazing.
I like that. It’s the place of the hand. How do you get the hand back in without being craftsy or laissez-faire in art?
While still doing large-scale work that wants to be significant.
Right, and placing myself in a trajectory of art history. I’m clearly indebted to minimalism, but the hand isn’t evident in minimalism, and neither is in situ. So it’s about, like, how do you have a hand in the situation without devolving into the macramé aesthetic–which I really don’t like.
The Ungovernables runs at the New Museum on Bowery through April 22.
Sarah Nicole Prickett is the style editor at Toronto Standard. You can follow her on Twitter at @xoxSNP.