Group Effort

New York
05.16.05

Left: Andrea Fraser and gallery visitors. Middle: Cheyney Thompson. Right: The Orchard storefront.


“COULD WE HAVE SOME QUIET IN HERE, PLEASE?” The commandingly loud voice belonged to Andrea Fraser, whose performance May I Help You? had been in more or less continual progress for four hours, ever since the new gallery Orchard, founded by artist Gareth James and eleven cohorts including Moyra Davey, Fraser, Christian Philipp-Müller, R. H. Quaytman, Karin Schneider, and Bennett Simpson, opened its doors to the public at 1:00pm on Wednesday, May 11. Originally devised in 1991 for a show at the late Colin de Land’s American Fine Arts, Fraser’s wickedly funny monologue—in which she seems to alternately inhabit the persona of a skeptical visitor and a wayward tour guide—was also a perfect introduction to an untitled “exhibition-in-progress” at the modestly scaled and outwardly crumbling Lower East Side storefront. Confronting visitors as they walked in the door, Fraser appeared locked into a looping commentary that ranged from the dismissive to the eulogistic and from the immediately refutable to the oddly convincing. “THIS ISN’T ART,” she raged, “IT’S A PERVERSION OF ART! THIS ISN’T CULTURE!”

Seated at what he described to me as a “German beer garden table” at the rear of the space, James told me that the idea of a new gallery had been in the air since AFA closed last year. He’d half expected it would never to come to fruition, and certainly not so soon, but a chanced-upon rental and a willing team made for an accelerated schedule. “First it was ‘maybe by September,’ then ‘OK, we’ve got three weeks.’” Attempting to avoid both the bureaucratic headaches of nonprofit registration and the cut ’n’ thrust of the commercial scene, Orchard will finance itself via a delicate combination of sales and monetary contributions. Like its inaugural exhibition, the gallery’s financial plan has elements of risk and improvisation, but the organizers plainly wouldn’t have it any other way: James remains an admirer of de Land’s unconventional attitudes towards the business of art, maintaining an interest in a “non-advocative” curatorial model that incorporates space for disagreement.

This aim went some way towards explaining why, amongst the works by a roster of artists, including Louise Lawler, John Miller, Rebecca Quaytman, and Lawrence Weiner, on display in a consciously traditional hang, there were a number for which James professed nothing but disdain. Nevertheless, the atmosphere—a safe distance away from the unstoppable Fraser at least—was amicable, and despite supposedly hoping to avoid an opening reception, James had laid out a few cases of Bud “just in case.” The afternoon was pleasantly warm, and visitors lounged contentedly outside, dipping into the show at irregular intervals. Cheyney Thompson plugged his Thursday night DJ set at a party for Richard Phillips as a buoyant Allan McCollum arrived to cast an eye over the clutch of his “Plaster Surrogates” on view inside. As his contribution to the show, Jeff Preiss was filming the distinctly relaxed action for posterity.

As I exited, Fraser was still going full tilt: “WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?” she roared, appearing to mean the artists in the show, but surely also targeting its audience. “Where do they get their money? What does this have to do with my experience?” If Orchard comes anywhere close to answering these perpetual teasers, it will have provided ample return on investment.

Michael Wilson