Feb 8, 2010

The Education Meme in Artistic Practice

It started for me with last summer's less-than-anticipated University of Trash exhibition at the Sculpture Center and blossomed into a 2010 mini-trend. Fake educational institutions are springing up in New York City, probably as a cash-poor free content-producing strategy. There's a theory that it's related to the fact that about half the city's artists and designers subsist on paltry stipends from schools like Parsons, Pratt, SVA and Columbia. No matter, I'm a greedy consumer of art and architecture events and these ones are not bad at all.

There are about a half-dozen of these crypto-schools happening at the moment, among them the Public School for Architecture, organized in New York at the Van Alen Institute by the nice guys and a girl at Common Room. (Their recent project for the NY Foundation for the Arts got no press despite its potential recession-friendly cost-slashing story line. Are editors tired of this angle after only 16 months or are a few things happening in the world for other reasons?) I'm hoping to make it to their sliding-scale benefit at 177 Livingston next Saturday (Feb. 20) and would love to teach the proposed course on how to write a predictable Nicolai Ouroussoff architecture review (but preparing a decent class takes so much time and pays nothing, kind of like reporting). A lot of what's happening in "courses" is that they are being used to publicize work already underway or air justified professional grievances. This used to just be called a lecture or a talk, but fine, call it a school if you want.

My favorite crypto-school at the moment is the Bruce High Quality Foundation University, sponsored by Creative Time and organized by the semi-anonymous art collective that seems to be absolutely everywhere right now. They have a series of attractive but forgettable art-historical-ish installations in the 1969 show at PS1, and I went to their pretty funny douchebag art history lecture at the X-Initiative during last fall's Performa festival. I used to harbor a slight resentment against them for being immediately puffed up by professional art critics - they take the fun out of everything - but anyway I went to the "registration" event at their West Broadway meeting space. Conversations with artists in front of boards displaying their proposed courses devolved into a hilarious YouTube karaoke party. I signed up for Philosophy of Motion Pictures on Wednesdays, and so far the discussions of continental philosophy and film screenings have been a better-than-expected chance to revisit ideas I used to think were important (but now mostly don't) after the seduction of those great book covers has faded, in a group way more motivated than your average college class.

The latest one I heard about recently is Trade School, based on the idea of bartering goods and services in exchange for acquiring skills, which I guess gives you a good chance to consider the actual value of the course compared to your time in relative terms. Adam Kleinman, who organizes the great Access Restricted lecture series for LMCC, this time on the theme of Law and Representation at extraordinary courtroom sites in lower Manhattan, even proposed a good "course" on the subject. -STEPHEN ZACKS

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