Elizabeth Dee on X

It’s not every day that a successful Chelsea dealer branches out and starts a nonprofit, but then again, most Chelsea dealers aren’t like Elizabeth Dee. Since 2002, Dee has devoted herself to promoting artists who deal expressly with conceptual, political, and social concerns — artists like the influential Adrian Piper, who has long politicized conceptual and minimalist practices by infusing them with race and gender issues; Josephine Meckseper, who uses the trappings of contemporary life to make darkly political installations; and Harry Dodge and Stanya Kahn, whose performance art–inspired, mock-documentary videos are at turns funny, unsettling, and philosophical.

Early last month, it was announced that on March 7, a new art space would open at 548 West 22 Street, the former home of the Dia Center for the Arts. X, as the initiative is simply titled, is the brainchild of Dee, whose eponymous gallery is just two blocks south. She says X was born out of “conversations that were happening in response to the political climate and economic turmoil.” It proposes to be neither a gallery nor a museum nor a foundation, but instead a dynamic center of artistic activity that will exist only for one year, during which time it hopes to capture the essence of the present cultural moment.

X will be organized into four phases, the first of which kicks off with installations by Mika Tajima, Derek Jarman, and Christian Holstad (click on the photo gallery at left to see works by these artists). Dan Flavins light work created for the building in 1996 will be installed for the whole year, and to further expand on the idea of art that engages with the building and its history, an artist will be commissioned in each phase to create a site-specific installation.

Although the project has a curatorial director — Cecilia Alemani, an independent curator in New York and Milan — and a project curator — Jenny Moore, who comes from Dee’s ranks — the initiative will essentially be run by an international advisory board of some 50 art-worlders: curators, museum professionals, gallerists, and artists alike. In that sense, Dee stresses that she is just “one of many members” of the initiative — though it clearly could not have happened without her. ARTINFO sat down with Dee to find out a little bit more about the creation, the duration, and the naming of X.

Elizabeth, how did the X initiative come about?

It came out of conversations with colleagues and artists in the international art community: It’s clear that we’re in an unusual yet defining moment in our culture, and now is a time to reflect on the past and consider the present very carefully, as well as actively think beyond this crisis into new realms. A group of us had been getting together and having dialogues throughout the fall, and we decided to form an international advisory group. I then sought to make that group a nonprofit organization.

In January, I started seeking private foundation funding so we could locate ourselves in an exhibition site for the period of one year. Because we are in the midst of such transition, we wanted the project to have a time-based element to it. Luckily we were able to negotiate a deal with the corporation that owns 548 West 22 Street, which is the former Dia Center for the Arts.

If the project is successful, will it continue beyond a year?

I don’t know, and that’s part of the excitement — that this is an evolving dialogue. X will be the manifestation of an ongoing conversation that will happen in real time, so its look and feel are yet to be determined; its final manifestations are going to be temporary at best. The project traverses many platforms and operates on many levels simultaneously, in a way that museums, galleries, and traditional alternative spaces don’t allow for.

What are some of those different operating levels? What differentiates X from a typical nonprofit art center or alternative space?

First, a rapidly shifting dialogue will yield the programming rather than a single curator’s particular vision or ideology. Second, this is a one-year program with a beginning and an end, and the deadline is very important to think about.

Third, we can decide on a program and then execute it within weeks. There isn’t a lead time here locking down programming that has been conceived six months in advance.  That’s important at a time when things are changing on a week-to-week basis. What we’re looking to do is chronicle what we think is an important and defining time in our cultural transition.

The project will have an international advisory board. Who are some of the members?

We will present the complete list prior to our opening on March 7. For the time being I can say that every museum in New York will be represented, many of the major museums in Europe will be represented, every generation of international gallerists will be represented, and every generation of artists will be represented.

Also, each member of the board has, in his or her own history, embodied similar strategies of progressive work and engaged in multiple sectors of the art world. These are people who are already moving beyond the confines of their roles.

What programs are planned so far?

Most Thursday evenings, there will be a lecture, round-table discussion, screening, or performance. After we open on March 7, the following two to three Thursdays will be devoted to the economy. We’re going to have a town hall meeting as well as a panel discussion with keynote speakers from the international art world.

April will be a return to artist-driven content. Mika Tajima, who’s doing the inaugural ground-floor installation, will present a lecture with Sylvère Lotringer, editor of Semiotext(e); Christian Holstad will do one of his infamous slide lectures, which will relate to the project he’s doing on the rooftop; and Throbbing Gristle is going to perform — in the middle of the Derek Jarman installation — for the first time on the East Coast as part of a benefit for X on April 17. In May, activism will be the theme.

How did you come up with the name X?

It’s difficult to name something, because once you do you own it, and the idea of ownership is somewhat questionable right now — especially for the purposes of this project, which is meant to embrace temporary possibility and spontaneous action. So we thought, Let’s just symbolically mark the site. X is the Roman numeral for 10, so it yields itself to collective understanding. It is also a crossroads, in pictorial form. Cecilia Alemani, our curatorial director, was talking about the European notion of the piazza, or square, where people gather to see each other and to be in conversation, and how Chelsea really lacks that place. We hope to fill that gap, to provide an opportunity for all aspects of the art community to come together and participate in a variety of ways.