At Brucennial, Harder to Get Into Than the Whitney Biennial, Unknowns Share Wall Space With Hirst and Schnabel

There was a large marquee above a storefront on Bleecker with huge red letters that spelled out BRUCENNIAL. The Bruce High Quality Foundation, the secretive artist collective that refuses to be photographed, will only do interviews over e-mail and runs a free art school called Bruce High Quality Foundation University, held the opening for its fourth Brucennial show last night, a massive group show that coincides with the Whitney Biennial. The similarities, however, pretty much stop there. BHQF, along with some of their friends, crammed work by some 400 artists inside a storefront space on Bleecker. There were canvases by students that had never shown their work before hanging next to Damien Hirst and Cindy Sherman. The work was on display floor to ceiling (and they were high ceilings), but to call this “salon style” is a bit too formal: it was more like a truly fantastic garage sale. The line to get inside stretched the length of Bleecker, snaked over to Washington Square Park and left people feeling a little irritable as they stood in the street in the drizzling rain.

“It’s harder to get into than the actual Whitney Biennial,” one restless hopeful attendee said somewhere around Sullivan Street, blocks away from the entrance.

The artist Haley Mellin, standing outside with one of the Bruces grabbed Gallerist and dragged us inside. The Bruce, skinny and small with big glasses and a few days scruff, was worried that many of the artists could not get in. There were capacity issues—an anxiety reinforced by the frowning police officer watching the door closely. When we requested a face-to-face interview with the Bruce, he grimaced and shook his head “no.”

Ms. Mellin, who helped install the show, called the Brucennial “social sculpture at its best.” She began scanning the room and listing work: “Herbie Fletcher, Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman. Oh, this is a great young painter Lauren Bartone,” she said, reaching into the crowd and grabbing the young woman by the arm. She pointed to her work, a simple red painting depicting the front of a chain link fence. It hung below a Mike Kelley drawing, and rested between a Hirst spot painting and a large Julian Schnabel canvas of British redcoats marching next to something that looked like a super-sized white buffalo (it was a tribute to the late Kelley and had “Goodbye” scrawled across it in purple paint).

“It’s always good to be between a Hirst and a Schnabel,” Ms. Bartone said. It was her first time exhibiting work in New York.

Vito Schnabel, who represents BHQF and helped organize the show, was standing near his father’s painting. We asked him if he had a favorite work.

“One of the things I love about this show,” he said, “is obviously there are artists here who are dead, there are artists you don’t know, there are artists you know a little bit more. Even if you wouldn’t necessarily want to have these pictures in your home, all of it together kind of becomes one work. It’s a real nice, diplomatic way of looking at things. There’s a sense of camaraderie.”

That said, he rapid-fire rattled off some names, his eyes jumping around the space: “I like René Ricard’s painting a lot, Rashid Johnson’s, I like Ron Gorchov, a Dash Snow collage, I like the bird shit paintings by Dan Colen, nice Mike Kelley drawing up here, collaboration painting here by Warhol-Basquiat. There’s a big blow-up rat that’s like a blow fish attached to a rope up there that I like a lot. I forget the name of the artist. Some things I don’t even know the names of.”

Artists’ names were scribbled faintly on the wall in pencil. Piles of empty PBR cans were beginning to stack up on the floor.

We bumped into the young painter N. Dash, who had a small and understated watercolor hanging among a number of works by artists we wouldn’t even pretend to know the names of. She inspected the work filling the room.

“It’s a perfect storm,” she said kind of gravely then disappeared into the crowd.

Outside, it was still raining. New York‘s Jerry Saltz stood by the door and looked at us, a little stressed.

“Can you get me into this thing?” he asked.

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