Callicoon Fine Arts is pleased to present If Rittenhouse --, an exhibition organized by Devin Kenny with works by Isabel Alicia Baptista, Zhiwan Cheung, Devin Kenny, Charlie Markbreiter, Martyna Szczęsna, Andrea Solstad and Chester Vincent Toye. The exhibition dates are October 22nd to December 5, 2020.
Every morning I studied the news reports on the radio, which covered many subjects: planned highway construction projects, politics, movie stars, pop music stars, television stars, impending diseases, lying politicians, local sports, bank robberies, soldiers killed in Iraq. I suppose I was hoping the radio would serve as a kind of personal oracle, that stories of real human struggle might release me from solipsistic self-pity and show me how to leave my bungalow and enter the world with a sense of purpose, or at least a sense of direction…
“We sought a frontier at once easy to access and too remote, perilous and safe, wild and wholly predictable, with terrain that could be mastered by any committed novice. We set off in the direction of the little town that did not know our virtues were criminal.
-Wendy S. Walters, Multiply/Divide
I had initially been interested in a show that extrapolated from the idea of the broken promise of the American Dream, goaded by my experiences living in the rapidly-gentrifying historically-Black neighborhood of 3rd Ward Houston for the past several years. Thinking about the area's histories of segregation and political neglect on behalf of the city but also the interdependence, self-reliance, endurance, determination, and joy that would spring up in resistance and day-to-day existence over many generations. I knew the place was no microcosm of all of America (such a thing is impossible), but I was inspired by the ad hoc and organized repurposings that were ubiquitous and visible on multiple scales. The kinds of repurposings I witnessed and learned of in Houston have a relationship to things that have been an influence on me and my art: from my introduction to culture-making through the DIY ethos of zines, mini-comix, street skateboarding, graffiti, and the 4 elements of hiphop, as well as in a variety of ways in online communities (some of which laid the foundation for my participation in these communities). This spirit of repurposing seems to be a given for many marginalized peoples, but even for those less-so: it is a useful tool for opposing the dearth created by the contradictions cast in high relief of life in America, where class mobility is allegedly possible but somehow very rarely seen. The artists in this show are ones who have been in some way responding to the psychic and material landscape of the Contemporary U.S., only exacerbated and made even more visible by the continued destruction of Black lives in widely-distributed media, and the failure of the State to address the basic medical concerns of its people in an efficient manner.
The exhibition title refers to an Illuminati-esque shadow organization from the television show Timeless (which I watched during the first few months of the year). In that series, there is a time machine that is developed by a multimillionaire tech mogul who recruits 3 people: an engineer, a history professor, and a soldier (all Americans) to attempt to stop the organization known only as Rittenhouse from altering the timeline of the U.S. and the planet at large. The organization is named after David Rittenhouse, an astronomer and watchmaker, who was an apparent friend of the American Revolution. His ancestor was the first papermaker in Philadelphia, William Rittenhouse, a German immigrant, but Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square commemorates David. In the show we learn that historical figures such as the infamous Benedict Arnold and JP Morgan of JP Morgan Chase Bank, an organization, who in their origins profited from chattel slavery, are also members of Rittenhouse. There are several moments in the series where statements like "if Rittenhouse succeeds in changing ___________, (horrible thing) may happen. We have to stop them." are uttered by the three characters and their supervisors. Some months after completing watching the series, I learned the murderer Kyle Rittenhouse used his pro-police and pro-Trump political agenda, alongside an easy access to firearms to attempt to take the lives of innocent people who were fighting for freedom and equality in a nation that has not allowed such things to be accessed by all. His actions are an outgrowth of a longstanding systemic issue with fatal results: white supremacy and its many machinations.
While one 'Rittenhouse' is a fictional entity and the other is a very real one, the connection between them, beyond the name, and the centrality of white cis manhood, is an interest in a kind of regression, or a halting of progress: stopping or reversing, not going forward. Make America Great Again and similar sentiments like those used by the historical Nazi party, the KKK, the Proud Boys, and a host of current white nationalist and white supremacist groups look back to a time that never existed, a 'pax romana' for a privileged few, and use the fantasy as fuel to burn down possibilities of a better society for all. As writers and artists we know powerfully well how imagined realities/fictions can impact and inform the real. Kyle Rittenhouse and those supportive of white supremacist heteropatriarchy are catalyzed by MAGA-type fictions, and I think all the works in this show do an opposite kind of work: whether through allusion to the material realities of the present, prodding at the veneer of myth, drawing connections between various hidden or repressed histories, reflections on the present and imaginings of alternatives including play as a radical response to constriction, and other kinds of imagining that can't be easily translated into words.
Finally, I was also thinking about conditional statements and the question of their utility in sociopolitical imaginings.
Where p is the condition and q is the outcome.
“Being on your Ps and Qs.”
If Rittenhouse [organization] succeeds, then _______
If Rittenhouse is allowed to walk free, then _______
If Rittenhouse is able to kill people for exercising their free speech, then what does that say about the country?
In Timeless, the often unspoken conditional statement is a prompt for action. To have both components of the statement (If---then,) closes things down in a neat and tidy way, driving a linear narrative. Although this narrative is supposed to be for the greater good (it is for the protagonists after all), it is later revealed that while Rittenhouse is bad, the US government's own plans for the time machine aren't much better.
A society must assume that it is stable, but the artist must know, and must let us know, that there is nothing stable under heaven... The artist cannot and must not take anything for granted, but must drive to the heart of every answer and expose the question the answer hides. --James Baldwin, The Creative Process, 1962
Adding an ‘if’ destabilizes and underscores a potential energy, the 'then' closes it, even though a new thing may come from it. Outcomes come after the imagining, after setting of the conditions. We have to understand the conditions to get elsewhere, and art is one potent means to understand and share new understandings.
-- Devin Kenny
Isabel Alicia Baptista (b. 1992, Caracas, lives and works in Brooklyn, NY) She attended Cooper Union in New York. Her work is currently on view as part of “Fade Into you” at A.D. Gallery also in the Lower East Side. Her work was the subject of a solo exhibition at Thomas Park Gallery, New York, and she has been included in group exhibitions at Rod Barton, London, and Studio Picknick, Berlin.
Zhiwan Cheung (b. 1986, Long Beach, CA) is an artist who works with sculpture, film, and performance to probe the intersection of national identity and the personal psyche, using his work to search for a critical understanding of an impossible homecoming. His solo exhibitions include those at the Andy Warhol Museum and Bunker Projects, both in Pittsburg. He is the host of the Seeing Color Podcast, a show that talks with cultural workers and artists of color in order to expand the area of what is a predominantly white space in the arts. Find out more here: seeingcolorpod.com
Devin Kenny (b. 1987, Chicago, lives and works in New York) is an interdisciplinary artist, writer, musician, and independent curator. Born on the south side of Chicago, as a teenager, he relocated to New York to begin his studies at Cooper Union. He has since continued his practice through the Bruce High Quality Foundation University, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, SOMA Mexico, and collaborations with DADDY, pooool, Studio Workout, Temporary Agency and various art and music venues in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and elsewhere including: Recess, Het Roode Bioscoop, REDCAT, MoMa PS1, Freak City, Performance Space, The Kitchen, and Santos Party House. He received his MFA in 2013 from the New Genres department at UCLA and is an alum of the Whitney Independent Study Program and the MFAH Core Program Houston.
Charlie Markbreiter (b. 1992, New York) is an editor at The New Inquiry, the cohost of Art is Easy with Lorelei Ramirez, mod prince at the Death Panel discord, and a PhD student at the CUNY Graduate Center. His writing has been featured in publications like Bookforum and Artforum, and has been performed at places like the Queens Museum, Abrons Art Center, and AdultSwim.com, among others. He lives in NYC. He is a shy, friendly and normal boy.
Martyna Szczęsna (b. 1984 in Olsztyn, Poland, lives and works in New York) is a Brooklyn-based multimedia artist whose work spans photography, installation and glass. Szczesna immigrated to the United States with her family in the early nineties, and she has since received a BFA from the Cooper Union for the Arts and Sciences and an MFA in Photography from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her work has been supported by residencies at Penumbra Foundation, Yucca Valley Material Lab, Franconia Sculpture Park, Bullseye Glass, AZ West as well as the AIM program at the Bronx Museum.
Andrea Solstad was born 1986 in Brooklyn, NY, where she still resides. Her work is currently on view in Monuments Now Part II: Call and Response at the Socrates Sculpture Park, NY. She also participated in In Practice: Total Disbelief at the Sculpture Center, NY, earlier this year. With Devin Kenny she produced Untitled (Purvis St.), a modified Monte Carlo that was also born in 1986. She has a motorcycle, a Honda Nighthawk CB700, that shares the same year. It’s a different kind of kinship than what culture recognizes, for sure, yet the artist feels a particular connection to it that is nothing like a familial one, maybe more like a farmer to their oxen or a knight to their loyal steed — in the sense that, her survival depends on theirs.
Chester Vincent Toye (b. 1994, South Orange, NJ) is an artist and filmmaker currently based in Los Angeles who recently received his MFA from UCLA. He is currently fundraising for the production of his debut short film, Hangtime, which depicts two newly hired Black art workers who learn about the dark side of the fine art world during the delivery of a controversial sculpture. If you would like to learn more and or support the film please send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Callicoon Fine Arts is located at 49 Delancey Street between Forsyth and Eldridge Streets. Gallery hours are Wednesday to Saturday, 11am to 6pm. The nearest subway stops are the Grand Street B and D trains, and the F, J, M and Z trains at Delancey-Essex Street.
Contact Photi Giovanis, email@example.com, 212-219-0326 for further information.