Issue #177
We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat October 28, 2011

Museum as Hub: Alpha’s Bet Is Not Over Yet: Steffani Jemison and Jamal Cyrus
2011
Photo Credit: Naho Kubota

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Museum as Hub: Alpha’s Bet Is Not Over Yet

New Museum, New York

Through December 4
by Brian Fee

When the New Museum—New York City's only museum exclusively devoted to international contemporary art—settled in its new location on the Lower East Side in December 2007, it introduced a dedicated "laboratory" that exists along side the ever-changing gallery floors. This is the Museum as Hub, a dynamic, cross-borders conjunction of art and ideas located just below the museum's Sky Terrace. Reflecting its relocation to the Lower East Side the Museum as Hub's inaugural show introduced visitors to the Hub's partner organizations and their respective ‘neighborhoods’—i.e. the relevant concerns of their institutions and contexts for their unique and divergent perspectives as artistic catalysts.

Insa Art Space (Seoul, Korea), Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo (Mexico City, Mexico), Townhouse Gallery (Cairo, Egypt) ,Van Abbermuseum (Eindhoven, the Netherlands) and the New Museum itself formed the Hub's initial network. Art space pool (Seoul, Korea) and El Museo Experimental El Eco (Mexico City, Mexico) are recent additions. Each institution took turns over the course of 2008 in highlighting their respective ‘neighborhoods.’ Then, taking the hub metaphor further, synapses fired between participating institutions and encouraged intriguing collaborations. One of the strongest Hub events originated from just such teamwork: The Incongruous Image (2011), an imagined dialogue between Belgian Conceptualist Marcel Broodthaers and Argentinian simulacrum virtuoso Liliana Porter (a pairing that might make Hans Ulrich Obrist blush), organized by Annie Fletcher from The Van Abbemuseum and Tobias Ostrander from El Museo Experimental El Eco. Hub exhibitions expanded beyond its participating venues last year with The Bidoun Library Project, organized by the magazine Bidoun: Arts and Culture From the Middle East and was enriched by Iranian Diaspora film and literature.

The Hub's current iteration continues this diversification. Steffani Jemison and Jamal Cyrus' Alpha's Bet Is Not Over Yet, features a reading room and discussion space with a newsstand containing complete reproductions of independent Black periodicals published between 1902 and 1940—from The Crisis: A Record of the Darker Races to Ebony. Jemison and Cyrus first realized this project as Book Club (2010), a literary workshop at Project Row Houses, a neighborhood-based nonprofit art and cultural organization in Houston's historic Third Ward, the heart of the metropolis' African-American community. 2010 marked the 100th anniversary of W.E.B. DuBois founding The Crisis and was Jemison's impetus for organizing Book Club, as according to her the concept of crisis, "serves to highlight the complex role of 'critique' (in its philosophical meaning—'an opposing force') in African American aesthetics and literary theory."[1] Certainly it remains a significant topic of discussion today.

Alpha's Bet Is Not Over Yet commenced readings on October 20 with writer Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts and New Yorker theater critic Hilton Als—reconfiguring Book Club's tight-knit sessions for New York City's larger arts community—which recur during the museum's free Thursday evenings and will feature other invited guests. Some dozen artists created posters inspired by the American Library Association's READ campaign, while others contributed contemporary chapbooks and self-published volumes to accompany the newsstand. Finally, there is The Reader, an illustrated compendium of essays, interviews and selections from the displayed periodicals and posters, edited by Jemison and designed by artist Nikki Presley. It's a tactile and portable publication for visitors wishing to delve deeper into the project.

Jemison and Cyrus' collaborative work is particularly significant to me as a native Texan. I was raised outside Galveston on the Gulf Coast, a short drive into downtown Houston, and my immediate family still lives in the area. I cannot claim to have visited the Third Ward beyond a handful of occasions, and certainly not in the last seven years, amidst the proliferating vitality of its arts community, when I lived in New York City. Alpha's Bet Is Not Over Yet, while echoing Museum as Hub's initial ‘neighborhood’ focus, compels me to revisit a community that, as a childhood neighbor, I should really know better. Considering the New Museum's forays in networking a global audience and social space, it's Alpha's Bet that hits me, in a word, closest to home.

Brian Fee is an art punk currently based in Austin, TX. His culture blog Fee's List covers his three loves (art, film and live music) occurring in his other three loves (the Lone Star State, the Big Apple, and Tokyo).

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[1] Jemison, Steffani. “Artists Statement: The Present Crisis.” PRH/Core Residency. 2010 < http://projectrowhouses.org/public-art/prh-core-residency/>.

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