Deitch Projects produced over 250 projects and public events during its 15-year history. Always global in its outlook, the gallery presented projects by artists from thirty-three countries.
The gallery opened in January 1996 with a performance by Vanessa Beecroft and closed in the summer of 2010 with an interactive sculpture project by Miranda July.
Deitch Projects was known for presenting the first solo exhibitions in New York of important emerging artists including Cecily Brown, Kehinde Wiley and Tauba Auerbach. The gallery also produced exhibitions and books with artists who had been part of Jeffrey Deitch's circle since the mid 1970s and early 1980s. The gallery was the exclusive representative of the Estate of Keith Haring and presented projects with Francesco Clemente, George Condo, Jon Kessler, David Salle and Alan Suicide. It presented two exhibitions with Jonathan Borofsky, who created his first public wall drawing in Deitch's 1975 Lives exhibition. The gallery produced "The Studio of the Street," a book and exhibition on Jean-Michel Basquiat's work in the transitional year of 1981, when he went from working on street to working in the studio. Deitch Projects presented several ambitious projects with Yoko Ono including "Ex-It," with one hundred trees growing out of one hundred wooden children’s coffins.
"I Bite America and America Bites Me," the notorious 1997 performance in which Oleg Kulik lived in the gallery for two weeks as a dog, helped to establish the gallery’s reputation for audacious programming. Gallery visitors were required to roll down, rather than walk down Paola Pivi’s grass slope in the 2006 "The Garden Party" exhibition. Guests were asked to check their underwear at the door for Noritoshi Hirakawa and Arto Lindsay’s 2002 "Shower in the Dark." For 2007's "Nest," Dan Colen and Dash Snow shredded 2,000 phone books, filled the gallery waist-deep with paper, then invited their community of artists, musicians, and friends to party in it.
Deitch Projects became known for embracing the new convergence of art, music, performance, film and design. Each year at Art Basel Miami Beach, the gallery presented a performance by a band that emerged from the art community. Performers included Fischerspooner, Scissor Sisters, Chicks on Speed, Coco Rosie, The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, Devendra Banhart, The Gossip and Santigold. In its New York galleries, Deitch Projects presented multi-media and performance projects with Madonna and Steven Klein, filmmaker Michel Gondry, architects LOT-EK and fashion designers Stephen Sprouse, As Four and Jeremy Scott. From 2005 through 2007, Deitch Projects presented an annual Art Parade on West Broadway in SoHo that drew 1,000 participants.
Deitch Projects was also known for its support of artists who are inspired by street culture. One of the gallery’s most influential projects was "Street Market" in 2000, an installation by Barry McGee, Steve Powers and Todd James that recreated an apocalyptic version of an urban street. For "Session the Bowl" in 2002, radical architects Simparch built an empty wooden swimming pool in the gallery and invited skateboarders to “session the bowl” twenty-four hours a day. In 2008, Deitch Projects produced a project with Swoon that included the construction of seven boats in the form of floating sculptures. The boats sailed down the Hudson River from upstate New York and docked in front of the artist's exhibition in the gallery's expansive riverfront space in Long Island City. The gallery partnered with Goldman Properties to present an ongoing mural project at the corner of Houston Street and Bowery and to create "Wynwood Walls," an outdoor museum of street art in Miami.
The gallery presented influential thematic exhibitions including "Constraction" and "Substraction," which explored new directions in abstract painting, "Tedious Limbs," which presented video as electronic painting, and "After the Reality," which showcased work by emerging Japanese artists who had not yet shown in the United States. The gallery also produced "New York Minute," an exhibition about the new generation of New York artists for MACRO in Rome and Garage in Moscow.
The gallery’s projects were documented with an active publication program. Artist’s books and monographs were produced with almost all of the artists with whom the gallery had an ongoing relationship. One of the gallery’s most ambitious books was "Live Through This," which documented the New York art scene and its extension into music and other creative fields in the mid 2000s.
Deitch Projects was known for rebuilding the interior of the gallery for almost every major show, and for even rebuilding the gallery facade for particularly ambitious projects. Richard Woods remade the Grand Street façade into a Pop Art version of a Tudor cottage and Michel Gondry constructed a video rental store at the entrance to the Wooster Street gallery with a working film studio behind it.
The gallery maintained a performance workshop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and studio spaces for project artists. From its inception, the gallery offered artists production funding, starting with $25,000 per project in the early years, and then supporting the production of museum scale exhibitions and ambitious works of public art. The goal was to help artists realize the projects that they dreamed of creating, rather than presenting more conventional exhibitions in traditional formats.
One of the prime objectives of the Deitch Projects was to build a strong community around the gallery and serve as a platform for its interaction. Though the gallery closed in 2010, the community that formed around the gallery remains vibrant.
The history of the gallery is documented in Live the Art, Fifteen Years of Deitch Projects, published by Rizzoli in 2014 and on the Deitch Projects Archive website.
October 21 - December 22, 2017
18 Wooster Street
The faces are melting in Kenny Scharf’s new paintings. “Things are disintegrating,” he says, “I am reacting to our increasingly out-of-control situation.” Scharf’s work continues to be infused by his inexhaustible optimism and his sense of fun but there has always been an engagement with profound issues beneath the façade. Ecology, the environment, and capitalist excess have long been central themes. More recently, his paintings have shown his alarm over the effects of petroleum and the mountains of nondegradable plastic that are produced from it.
Scharf’s work has always combined and contrasted the pop culture he absorbed growing up in Los Angeles with the important innovations in modern and contemporary art. His earlier work fused Dali and Disney. More recently, he has been in dialogue with Pollock and Abstract Expressionism. In the new work, he merges his distinct style with color field and stain painting. “I like to connect with every movement in 20th-century art,” Scharf explains. “I make new hybrids, taking it all in and putting it in a blender.”
A distinctive style is something that Scharf admires in other artists and from the beginning has tried to achieve in his own work. He believes in art as an expression of individual identity. From his first mature work as a student at the School of Visual Arts, a painting by Kenny Scharf was instantly recognizable. Still adhering to his signature style, he continuously invents new forms.
Scharf is very enthusiastic about his new “sloppy style” that characterizes the major paintings in the exhibition. Rows of faces disintegrate into colorful drips reminiscent of both New York School painting and the serial imagery of minimal art. In these new works, Scharf is striving to create clear and simple forms that resonate with meaning. He feels liberated and excited, adding that “it is so much fun.”
The expression of emotion in art is essential to Scharf. Art that is cold leaves him cold. He explains that cartoon faces can express emotion with abstract power. Like his artistic colleagues from his early years in New York, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, Scharf studied cartoons as a way to intensify figurative expression.
It is his early downtown history that brings Scharf back to New York this October. The Museum of Modern Art is opening an exhibition on the seminal performance space Club 57 in which Scharf played a central role. Watching him paint, one can see how his experience as a backup dancer for Klaus Nomi and his other performative roles have shaped his approach to his work. One side of his painting practice is detailed and meticulous to the extreme. The other side is tremendously physical and requires him to use his body like a dancer.
Visitors to Scharf’s Los Angeles studio are greeted by a hundred or more discarded plastic toys in his yard and on his roof. During the early part of his career, Scharf found his art materials in the garbage. To this day, he still stops his car when he finds plastic toys and TV sets thrown away on the street. These discarded plastic objects have inspired the two other bodies of work featured in the show: his Assemblage Vivant Tableaux Plastiques, and his TV Bax. The assemblage works, which are inspired by the Nouveau Realistes, are constructed from his stock of recycled plastic toys. The TV Bax are painted on the plastic backs of discarded television sets. Like the toys, the TV backs have a disconcerting anthropomorphic quality. Scharf wonders if their anonymous designers created these plastic covers, which are different for every model, to resemble a face.
Scharf finds these thrown-away toys and TV backs to be poignant objects, resonant with emotion. “Each of these objects carries a story,” Scharf explains. He thinks about how people might have struggled and sacrificed to buy these toys and TVs, and about the intense relationship that children and families have with them. Scharf resurrects the lives of these inanimate objects in his work. He also notes that garbage keeps changing with technology. The backs of TV sets used to have large protruding “noses.” Now they are flatter and more similar to a canvas.
Since his childhood, Scharf has been fascinated by outer space. Space travel and the portrayal of infinite space have long been central themes. In his life and in his work, he tries to eliminate boundaries and borders. As he pursues his dialogue with the great painters of the New York School, he is increasingly preoccupied with the inner space of painting. His exploration of inner space creates a dynamic tension with his passion for outer space. With his characteristic exuberance and his moral voice, Scharf reformulates his unique combination of Pollock and Pop to create a vibrant new body of work.
Photo Credit: The1point8 and Adam Reich
Read about the Club 57 exhibition at MoMA in the New York Times here.
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