X Initiative, the starry-eyed art experiment that rumbled into Dia's former Chelsea space last March, ended its one-year run 11 a.m. Thursday with the conclusion of the 24-hour "Bring Your Own Art" exhibition, a blowout event that, as had become the venue's signature, drew together the city's hungry young artists, grizzled scene vets, critical shamen, and assorted art weirdos.
For the finale for the idiosyncratic nonprofit founded by gallerist Elizabeth Dee and a team of international curatorial and artistic advisors, the show's organizers had invited any and all artists in the New York vicinity to hang their work, no questions asked, on the building’s third and fourth floors, a premise inspired by the late curator Walter Hopps, who in 1978 organized a 36-hour version in his similarly fleeting Museum of Temporary Art in Washington, D.C.
Starting just before noon on Wednesday, disheveled artists flooded the galleries, painting designs on the walls, hanging sheets of tinsel from the ceiling, and filling the building with canvases and videos. The caliber of the work varied widely, and there was little to provoke too strong a reaction, but attendees hanging around the space to take in the pageantry agreed that a good vibe of community and creative fervor was palpable. It was a fittingly hopeful ending for a space that opened in the heart of the recession with the urgently titled panel discussion, "After the Deluge? Perspectives on Challenging Times in the Art World."
“We think around 200 artists brought works,” X director Cecilia Alemani said yesterday morning, surprisingly chipper after a long night during which she only managed 45 minutes of shuteye. (She had set up a sleeping bag in the cavernous space.) Surprisingly, the sometimes rambunctious art world, perhaps inspired by the generous curatorial gesture, treated the space kindly. “It could have gone completely out of control,” Alemani admitted. “But everyone was incredibly tidy. No one hung things on top of each other.”
As seems to be the case these days, some of the most interesting work in the show revolved around performances. For one piece, "Lost Artist" fliers were taped up around the building with instructions to call a phone number written on little tear slips. Late Tuesday night an intrepid visitor dialed the number, only to have it answered by Monica Gunderson, the artist, who was sitting on the floor a few feet away. She explained that she had just moved to the city from California was nervous not to know many people in New York. A pleasant talk ensued, a group gathered round, and she made a few new friends. On another floor, a bartender stood behind a table stocked with liquor and glasses, good-naturedly refusing to serve drinks to anyone. It was an exercise in denial, he said.
The flashiest performers, though, were the burlesque-esque collective Baby Skin Glove, who tap danced through the galleries in wedgie-happy sequined tights, surrounding audience members in a boisterous, annoying ring.
It was hippie-friendly night for the most part, with only one minor Altamont incident. Bands had been invited to perform throughout the night on the downstairs stage, where beer and wine was liberally dispensed. "One of the performers was so excited he smashed his head against the wall and started bleeding," Alemani said. "He was fine, but there was blood everywhere and a huge hole in the wall.” The crater will be patched up before X hands over the keys to its landlords. “During Performa, one person kicked a hole in the wall, so we’ve handled this before,” Alemani noted.
Indeed, over the past year, the building has seen it all. There were memorable exhibitions, providing well-deserved retrospectives to legends like Hans Haacke and Derek Jarman alongside shows of emerging talents like Mika Tajima, Keren Cytter, Amir Mogharabi, and Christian Holstad. Peter Doig screened a film series on the building's roof over the summer. Scattered throughout the run were a number of other innovative, conversation-starting gems, like “No Soul for Sale” (a fair of alternative art spaces from around the world), the rooftop lounge designed by Jeffrey Inaba, and, during its final week, a riveting talk on Bas Jan Ader.The parties, of course, were memorable too, particularly Jennifer Rubells gorgeous, gluttonous Performa opening banquet, which delighted and appalled critics in equal measure. And who can forget the night Picasso biographer John Richardson used an acceptance speech to launch a bruising attack on art historian Rosalind Krauss?
So, what’s next for Alemani, who was the ever-present genius loci of X for much of its run? “I'll be working on the small scrapbook about X, then I'm going on vacation,” Alemani said. The building will become an event space. "All the walls that are temporary, we'll have to knock them down — we'll return the place as we were given it," she said. “Next week, there is a fashion show.” In the stairwells, Dia’s 1996 Dan Flavin commission — the last work completed by the artist before his death, now on long-term loan to the building — will continue to glow, awaiting the Dia Art Foundation's planned return to a building across the street. But for the foreseeable future, Chelsea’s art scene will be considerably quieter.