Empire State. New York Art Now

Empire State. New York Art Now
Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome
23 April – 21 July 2013

Opening at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, on April 23, 2013, “Empire State” explores the constantly shifting realities and mythologies of New York City as a “New Rome.” Filling the Palazzo’s exhibition spaces, this ambitious intergenerational survey presents the work of twenty-five renowned and emerging New York City artists – each in depth and with important new work being shown for the first time – and suggests how they might re-imagine the relationship between their community and the life of the city through a unique grasp on its varied sources of power. With painting, sculpture, photography, video, and installation, the artists in “Empire State” examine their city’s enduring relevance to the world at a moment when urban life is being redefined rapidly everywhere.

Organized by British curator Sir Norman Rosenthal and New York-based independent curator, writer and editor Alex Gartenfeld, “Empire State” will be on view at the Palazzo through July 21, 2013. The exhibition’s artists include Michele Abeles, Uri Aran, Darren Bader, Antoine Catala, Moyra Davey, Keith Edmier, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Dan Graham, Renée Green, Wade Guyton, Shadi Habib Allah, Jeff Koons, Nate Lowman, Daniel McDonald, Bjarne Melgaard, John Miller, Takeshi Murata, Virginia Overton, Joyce Pensato, Adrian Piper, Rob Pruitt, R. H. Quaytman, Tabor Robak, Julian Schnabel, and Ryan Sullivan. Most of the art on view is newly commissioned, complemented by other significant works made in recent years.

“Manhattan is an accumulation of possible disasters that never happen,” wrote celebrated architect and theorist Rem Koolhaas. For New York City, the most popular disaster myth is that it will be eclipsed. Yet in the era of globalization and with pundits routinely declaring it in decline, The Big Apple remains the world’s hegemonic force in the visual arts, with the most diverse concentration of artists, museums, arts organizations, galleries and public platforms in constant action and interplay. The artists presented in “Empire State” open spaces of power from inside this social and creative infrastructure. “Empire State” reveals some of the channels through which the resulting tide of communication, imagination and persuasion flows through their community and out into the world beyond.

The exhibition takes its title from the iconic mythologizing 2009 hip-hop anthem of the same name by rapper-turned-mogul Jay-Z and musician Alicia Keys, and references Empire, Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt’s 2000 treatise on American-led global capitalism. “Empire State” also calls to mind – and in some senses could be viewed as a 21st century response to – English-born American artist Thomas Cole’s famous series of paintings “The Course of Empire”. Made in New York in the years between 1883-36, Cole’s mighty canvases depict the rise and fall of an imaginary city situated, like Manhattan, on the lower end of a river valley where a bay meets the sea. In Rome in 2013, “Empire State” will echo and engage such allegories of America’s socio-economic transition and subsequent shifts in status, confidence and power. The Empire State Building, still a major tourist attraction, was once the tallest building in the world; today it is dwarfed by mega-skyscrapers in rapidly exploding urban centers in distant corners of the globe.

The artists in “Empire State” are grounded in institutional critique and studies of media and economics; they embrace hybridization and cross-disciplinary techniques; and they engage technology and abstraction to propose new models of expression and interpretation. One example is Dan Graham’s mirrored pavilions combine Minimalism and architecture to reflect and double the human form. With ‘Antiquity, a new series of 13 paintings that will debut in the exhibition, Jeff Koons harnesses incredible technical tools to manifest his attraction to classicism and Greek and Roman mythology. Michele Abeles’s new photographic prints incorporate her installation views, as she constantly revises her autobiography according to her context.

In a bold new commission, Keith Edmier reimagines the soaring, sculpted Baroque baldachin at Saint Peter’s Basilica according to the vernacular of the original Pennsylvania Station, a landmark of New York mythologizing: Designed by McKim, Mead & White and constructed in 1910 at the height of America’s industrial revolution, Penn Station was a breathtaking masterpiece of Roman Neo-Classical architecture and a testament to New York’s position as the de facto trade and culture capital of the New World. It was ignominiously demolished in 1963 at the height of New York’s craze for all things Modern. Replaced by a sprawling, anonymous eyesore, the original ‘Penn Station’ today exists in popular imagination as lost evidence of a once and future empire.

Perhaps most importantly, “Empire State” emphasizes a genealogy of artists: Confronting an increasingly corporatized art world spreading globally like a new Byzantium, artists are activating ever-shifting networks of relationships, collaborations and exchanges across the boundaries of generation, gender, perspective and technique. R. H. Quaytman will present a new selection of her portraits of New York artists in a visual expression of the act of networking and the invisible tracery of power and exchange. The exhibition will include the very first international presentation of work by Tabor Robak, whose art primarily circulates on the Internet and enjoys a considerable online following, poses fundamental questions about how we define and privilege the art-world community. Artists in New York often manipulate their authorship through collectives, and a significant number of artists in “Empire State” have been involved in such groups. Among these are Orchard, Reena Spaulings, 47 Canal, and Art Club 2000.

“Empire State” will be accompanied by a catalogue (Skira) featuring extended essays by the curators and by Tom McDonough, John Miller, and Eileen Myles; a visual essay by Matt Keegan; and original texts on each of the artists by leading critics and curators, including Vinzenz Brinkmann, Bonnie Clearwater, Kim Conaty, Bruce Hainley, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Tina Kukielski, and others.