As New York City’s arts and design museums reopen, so too are the smaller venues with timely shows worth checking out (at a responsible distance from your fellow patrons). At the Austrian Cultural Forum New York (ACFNY) in Manhattan, the latest exhibition opening October 1 examines the intersection of surveillance technology and urbanism, and how what it means to be a public citizen has drastically changed.
At Spaces of No Control, curated by the Vienna-based Walter Seidl, artists explore both modern 20th- and 21st-century cities and their dystopian counterparts; and especially how the fictional narrative of the panopticon city has slowly become something of a reality. In New York, where personal data is hoovered up by private developments as well as public utilities, and as private interests continue to take control of formerly public places and monetize them, the topic is even more pressing (even with quarantine).
The group show will bring together artists from the United States and Austria to contribute multimedia histories of specific places, tracking how market forces changed both the societal and architectural presences there over the last 50 years.
In Sabine Bitter/Helmut Weber’s Performing Publicness, for instance, the pair reproduced Park Avenue Plaza, just down the street, a privately-owned public space (POPS) owned by BlackRock, in the ACFNY’s main gallery. They ask visitors to walk through and experience the plaza for themselves, a supposedly open and public space that’s heavily surveilled and controlled to the multinational investment management company’s whims.
In the forum’s upper gallery, a documentary on Hans Haacke’s 1988, And You Were Victorious After All, a red “victory column” erected in Graz, Austria, that was firebombed by neo-Nazis a week before it was supposed to have come down, demonstrates how public contributions are ultimately used in ways that artists and planners have no control over. At least, that’s what Haacke believes. Elsewhere, video installations on how public artwork is perceived and interacted with, and the body as a barrier between the “self” and the “other,” extend the analysis of public space even further.
Spaces of No Control will run through January 10, 2021. In an ironic twist, what would have normally been a public show is now open by appointment only, as the threat of coronavirus—not state power or private interests—is still limiting how many people can gather.