The Bruce's Entry into Brussels
Why is an artwork ever important? Is it because it delivers a message, because of the skill invested into its execution or because of the name of the author, signed along the margin? As contemporary art has taken the upper hand in auction rooms, with world famous contemporary artists such as Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst, young high-hope bearers such as Oscar Murillo, or the global street art phenomenon Banksy, who became the darling of the art market while retaining his street demeanor, it becomes obvious that the name of the artist has become crucial. It’s all about ‘who did it’, and ‘who’ are you buying, not what, or even why! The answer lies in the name. This disputable trend instigated a group of Cooper Union (a posh school of art and architecture) graduates to gather around and create a collective, the most famous one in the city of New York according to NY Times, where members come and go in rotation, while the joint name always remains the same. They are The Bruce, centered around an idea epitomized in The Bruce High Quality Foundation.
The Bruce High Quality Foundation
The Bruce High Quality Foundation was founded in 2003, and named after the alleged worker who died during 9/11 called Bruce, now a shared moniker embodied in a caricatural puppet with dangling lips. Group members have all relinquished their personal fame and notoriety in order to work for the joint cause – the creation of an artwork that carries the significance in itself, not in the name of its creator[s]. Their mission was to create a character the would take a life of his own, in which they greatly succeeded, although the foundation members are occasionally identifiable (but this is really, beside the point). Commonly referred to as The Bruce, collective employs tongue-in-cheek humor, sharp sarcasm in social critique, and art historical references in their work, which is never limited on a single medium. The Bruce creates prolifically in painting and sculpture, just as in performance or video. Curiously, The Bruce as a single entity has become pretty famous in the past decade due to innovative, daring and intriguing endeavors in artistic approach.
Brucennials and Other Feats
Being outside of the official art circles, BHQF is simultaneously well accepted among the artsy crowd. They are hardly an institution, but occasionally they operate as one. One of The Bruce High Quality Foundation – BHQF – actions included organization of three Brucennials, biennial parodies, emphasizing the exponential growth of the number of artists coming out of art schools annually around the world. The first Brucennial showcased works of newbies on the scene alongside Basquiat or Cindy Sherman, while the latest (and final) one of this year displayed pieces by female artists only. Appropriation is an important basis for the creative concept of BHQF, and they’ve played with redefinitions of ancient Greek and Roman art, and the greatest names of art history, from Velasquez, Gericault, Manet, to Beuys and Warhol, paying homage to these figures and styles through gregarious ridicule. The Bruce also exhibited in the 2010 Whitney Biennial, Lever House Bruno Bischofberger Gallery, Brown University and the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The upcoming Brussels exhibition is entirely inspired by the already parodic work of James Ensor, a pioneer of Belgian Expressionism.
GO TO THE NEXT PAGE: The Bruce in Brussels: Vive La Sociale!
The Bruce as the Ensor’s Christ
Now, The Bruce is coming to Belgium, entering the capital city just like the mob on Ensor’s iconic painting Christ’s Entry into Brussels from 1888 (now at the Getty Museum in LA). This masterpiece of Belgian early modernity represents social allegory, ideal for symbolizing the core of The Bruce’s artistic journey. The work of James Ensor portrays a crowded city square, a societal metaphor, filled with the deformed, ugly, ridiculous faces, accompanied by historical figures and the artist’s family and friends. Christ bears some visual resemblance to the artist himself, as he is generally ignored as both the concept and its incarnation. Ensor depicts Christ as the alternative to the atheist social reformer Emile Littré, here interestingly depicted in clerical robe, as the leader of the obtuse throng.
Reason over Ignorance
Drawing a parallel between conceptual grounds of Ensor’s painting and The Bruce’s mission, we find they both dwell on the verge in between comedy and tragedy, where grim promises are rendered in a joking manner, unveiling reality as a set of caricatural figures, whether they address politics or pop culture. ‘Entering’ the scene as the bearers of reason, both The Bruce and Ensor’s Christ shed light onto the mass-mind and the [in]ability or reluctance to understand the truth.
Vive La Sociale!
The Bruce project will be showcased in the Almine Rech Gallery in Brussels, consisting of a selection of works that together form a large installation. Central spot of the exhibition will be given to the life-size reproduction of Ensor’s painting, as the source of inspiration, surrounded by pieces reminding us that little has changed in the past 126 years since James Ensor finished the piece. A clock is there to point out the present, play-doh figures represent 12 Apostles, companions of The Bruce, a TV altar piece, beer cans, cigarette butts, various chunks of contemporary debris, while the visiting crowd will be [in]voluntairly participating, symbolising the Ensor’s mob. The Bruce High Quality Foundation’s postmodern idea translated the criticism of early modern society as presented by Ensor into today’s extremes of the art world in an overtly mocking commentary.
Vive La Sociale! is the title of The Bruce show at Almine Rech Gallery and the reference to the visual source. Vernissage is scheduled for [symbolic] September 11, while the show will remain on view through October 1, 2014.