Cutting the Bullshit

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August 29th, 2011
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Bullshit Detectors or Art-World Darlings?

The Bruce High Quality Foundation, the New York-based anonymous artist collective founded in 2001 and comprised mostly of Cooper Union graduates, founded its own unaccredited university in 2009 and embarked on its Teach 4 Amerika tour this past spring. The goal of the tour, according to the Foundation’s website, was to “inspire and enable local art students to define the future of their own educational experience.”

The self-described “amateurs” have been referred to as “darlings of the art world” by New York Times art critic Julia Chaplin, and as “human bullshit detectors” by art critic Jerry Saltz. Whether you agree with Saltz that BHQF are bullshit detectors, or think they are merely purveyors of art-world bullshit instead, as Chaplin suggests, BHQF has still successfully commanded the gallery space of prestigious museums like the Whitney and influential shows like Art Basel Miami Beach. Last year, they were even ranked as 99th among the most powerful art world figures by ArtReview.

The Contemporary Art Student: Failure, Skepticism, and Manipulation

“Schools, whether intentionally or not, sell themselves to prospective students and their wary parents by promoting an unhelpfully heroic image of the contemporary commercially successful artist,” said BHQF via email (they don’t give interviews in person or over the phone).

BHQF, referred to collectively as the Bruces, noted that while some artists, including themselves, may find that working within the small frame of the commercial art world is a useful position, it’s “simply untenable for a contemporary art student to view that system as a measure of success. If they do, 99% of them will be failures. We’d prefer to think there are many ways of being an artist.”

Institutions that the Bruces believe are already thinking this way? Harrell Fletcher’s program at PSU and John Rubin’s program at Carnegie Mellon. “These programs still struggle to make their tuition match the moneymaking prospects of their students, but it’s a start,” said BHQF, who has defined arts education as “an education in metaphor manipulation.” But what exactly is metaphor manipulation? And why does it seem like everything the Bruces write is encoded in the kind of hyper-pretentious art-speak that they claim to reject?

When asked to break down their so-called “prolegomena” into layman’s terms, they recited a sort of proverb: “The world may be the world, but art is definitely how we see the world. That is what we mean by metaphor.” Then came the oversimplification: “Manipulation means taking agency over how we and others see the world. The fancy philosophical term for this is intentionality” (their emphasis).

Image courtesy of BHQF on Flickr

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