29 August 2019

September 7 – October 12, 2019
opening reception, Saturday 6-8pm

Postmasters Gallery is pleased to announce Complicities, William Powhida’s first solo exhibition with the gallery in nearly five years (and almost a decade since the Brooklyn Rail published “How the New Museum Committed Suicide with Banality”). 
 
Complicities is a show of painfully obvious, politically didactic, research-based, and precisely rendered works on paper. Produced over the last ten months in the wake of the crisis at the Whitney Museum, the work makes visible generalized and abstract systems —investment, real estate, museum boards, private family-owned companies, curation, public policy —illuminating the connections between art and the ruling class. 
 
Through specific subjects and case studies, Powhida uses an aesthetic of what might be best described as ‘capitalist realism’ to render an image of neoliberal governance and art’s instrumentalization in perpetuating a system of private-public partnerships. Punctuating these slow takes are a series of paintings based on the artist’s Instagram memes drawn from films and series including Halloween, Don’t Look Now, The Terminator, Robocop, Chernobyl, and Billions, which offer a different kind and degree of reflections on art’s role in society.

Over the last decade the need for critical re-evaluations of American social and cultural governance continue to intensify as the degrees and layers of structural, systemic, pragmatic, and opportunistic ‘complicities’ are laid bare.  The private and public systems that William Powhida maps out involve a lot of powerful white people. The artist visualizes financial investments in a military and defense conglomerate by four Whitney board members; the corporate web of profit, violations, lobbying, and philanthropy of the Koch Brothers’ sprawling empire; the policies and investments behind developer Stephen A. Ross’s Hudson Yard’s project initiated by former major Michael Bloomberg; laws and executive orders behind privatization since President Reagan; the direct flow of businessman Warren B. Kanders’tear gas to his previous role as a trustee at the Whitney Museum; and the curatorial structure of the Venice Biennale. 

The artist has described the resulting works as a form of ‘capitalist realism’ –a data visualization made of charts, diagrams and annotations filled with his exquisite watercolor drawings. He is attempting to put information back into circulation as art– the thing that links all of his subjects together.
 
Through a companion series of Instagram memes largely drawn from science fiction and horror, the artist comments on the institution of critique – “political art is a joke” – but as Kanders’ resignation from the Whitney Board shows, there are, in fact, ways to engage institutional critique outside of the studio. As the Teargas Biennial essay, the Decolonize this Place protests, and the withdrawal of 9 artists from the Whitney Biennial demonstrate, internal and external pressure can compel institutions to change. Nan Goldin’s efforts and lawsuits, brought by five states, representing thousands of victims, have caused museums to sever ties with the Sacklers and ask existential questions about their relationship with structural inequality. 
 
Artsys Nate Freeman recently reminded us that it’s been nearly 10 years since Greek mega-collector Dakis Joannou purchased a $1,000 William Powhida print How the New Museum Committed Suicide with Banality. It is a drawing “that satirizes the various players in the scandal and maps out all their connections, brutally criticizing the institution and its benefactor. ”Freeman’s observation, beyond suggesting Mr. Joannou has a sense of humor, implies that Powhida’s own complicity in the systems — museums, the art market, social media, white male privilege —undercuts or negates the function of critique. Powhida it would seem, is already bought and compromised.  
 
At the risk of centering structural problems on himself the artist has long been engaged through satire, parody, and self-critique of the problem of his identity as an artist.  A crucial aspect of this problem is best articulated by artist Xaviera Simmons, “Understand the historical American narrative and see yourselves within that framework; do the cultural autopsy, name what whiteness is and the centuries of harm it has done; show yourselves to each other and wrestle with the implications of whiteness on canvas, in performance, in front of the camera and definitely in writing; and, most importantly, stop oppressing us through dismissive and condescending words and deeds.” 
 
William Powhida has no illusions that this work will change the systems he inhabits, or save anyone, but he will not be selling any of this work to any of the subjects depicted (sorry, Glenn Furhman!). The artist will make any information about sales that transform art into commodity public upon request and tell you some other things about unpaid labor.

I’m pleased to be part of The Vision Board, a group show curated by Elizabeth Valdez that opens at Paul Kopeikin Gallery Saturday June 29th in Los Angeles.  I was negatively inspired by Roberta Smith’s recent demand to ‘stop hating Jeff Koons’, so I gave it a shot with “How to Make it For Real.” I’ll let you know if I suddenly embrace the Koonsian demand for a certain quality of life where economics are just icing on a cake.  My yoga teacher (don’t hate, I have to do something besides drinking in the basement) tried to get us to think with our ‘other mind’ and practice inverting our perspective.  That is generally the content of “How to Make it For Real” as I attend to the thoughts of the other Powhida.  


I’m also happy to have helped raise a few thousands dollars for Smack Mellon and Artspace in New Haven with two new drawings “Oh hey, collectors” and “Notes for New Lists.”

Artspace was one of the first places to show my work, such as it was in the early aughts, and I am glad that they are still going strong while non-profits struggle to keep their doors open. It was dispiriting to hear Nurture Art announce that is closing in Bushwick, leaving us with one less alternative to the market.  It’s not that I think commercial galleries are the root of all evil, but the dismal state of non-profits shows how skewed art is towards the drives and desires of money. 

I am seriously trying to believe Roberta and Jerry that there is a part of art that exists beyond Capitalism, but I’m pretty sure that art as I know it is a byproduct of capital accumulation whether we want to accept that or not. I’m resisting listening to the David Chang podcast where he discusses the parallels of art and money with Jerry and Roberta.  I feel like it might cause me to self-harm and drink a bottle of brown liquor.  On the other hand, I don’t feel like such a crazy person for showing clips of Chef’s Table to describe some aspects of class relations in the art world.  It is a very high-end service industry.  Now we can just look at @jerrygogosian memes on Instagram where you can practically smell the desperation and hints of a red wine hangover in the pursuit of the elusive sale.   Or you can look at my hideous not-memes that largely come from horror films, because I cannot think of a better metaphor for being an artist.  There is not enough self-care (yoga or otherwise) or magical thinking in the world to make me think otherwise. Put away that Tarot deck. 

Speaking of sales, I also had a one day April Not Fool’s sale where people could pay what they said they could afford for one of my series of not entirely original Artforum paintings.  Simon Linke has been making them for decades, but he has not, as far as I know used them to create a timeline of the contemporary or made up any satirical takes on the future of the art world.  Paddy Johnson sent me a rather amusing 60 Minutes segment of Linke being interviewed about his practice that is worth watching just to see a young Knight Landesmann wax about the aesthetics of Artforum ads, which confirmed my suspicions that the magazine played a strong role in defining the ‘look’ of the galleries’ advertisements.  I also imagine he personally selected the fashion ads, usually of women, to round out is particularly fucked-up, sexual predator vision of the art world. Anyway,  as one happy collector noted in total surprise, “Oh, these are real! and framed!  We owe you!”   They have indeed fed me and provided wine, so I feel better about the twenty dollars I made. 
I also have an print edition of “The Contemporary” available, and it is terrifying to watch Trump and his administration blunder towards war with Iran.  So, if you would like to contemplate 25 years of art, politics, and technological development, let us engage in some mutually agreed upon commodification.   I need some form of income while I work on a new series of drawings around ‘governance’ for a fall show, paint memes, and engage in semi-anonymous institutional criticism. More about that later.

6 December 2018

1 December 2018

On The Contemporary is currently open at Gallery Poulsen in Copenhagen, Denmark.  To view the entire exhibition please click through. The show is open through December 20th, 2018.  Images and video: Installation shots from Gallery Poulsen, A Privilege, 12 minutes, 2012 – 2024.  

14 March 2018

The fact that the art world relies on asymmetrical relationships isn’t a surprise, but for an aspect of culture that values autonomy and individuality above almost everything else (except maybe private property) the roles of the follower are much less discussed.  The viewer, the public, the audience, the masses; these all become terms to articulate the artist’s tertiary audience (after the collector and the experts, of course) that can become entangled with problematic notions of ‘popularity’ (this is bad for the serious artist) and democratic ideas like access and equity. For The Baffler’s recent issue “Holy Orders”, I contributed an exhibition called “Oh, Cults” that looks at Institutions, Figures, and their attendant Audiences.  I myself, am a guilty practitioner of shitposting and as I responded to a student’s question at a recent artist talk,  “Yes, I am part troll.”  

The entire exhibition is spread throughout the current issue of the Baffler, which I recommend subscribing to, as well as on the website.  The prints may be available soon as a limited edition suite or as individual limited edition prints through The Baffler’s store.   Here, the high price (luxury) of original drawings meets the lower price (affordability) of prints where touch is conveyed through a graphite signature.  

 

WILLIAM POWHIDA
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