The New York Times
Friday, August 6, 2004
' Relentless Proselytizers '
535 West 20th Street, Chelsea
Through Aug. 14
Aggressively absurd as well is a gothic horror of a gynecological
examination table assembled by Jesse Bercowetz and Matt Bua from all
kinds of junk, including flash lights and whirring motors.
Hundreds of works by boro's living artists at Brooklyn Museum
By Lisa J. Curtis
GO Brooklyn Editor
"Open House" is as controversial, and at times, as confrontational,
as "Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection,"
which, by the way, curator Charlotta Kotik also helmed. For evidence
of my theory, examine the heap of mixed materials installed outside,
against the backside of the museum, by Jesse Bercowetz and Matt Bua
(one of the many scattered, satellite installations)
The New York Times
Friday, January 9, 2004
Art in Review
' Pantone '
526 West 26th Street, Chelsea
Through Jan. 24
...Jesse Bercowetz and Matt Bua's enormous " Chandelier-Shanty Lair"
make up for what they lack in color with scale and aggressive forms.
They might steal the show if all the other artworks weren't putting up
such a fight. - Roberta Smith
The Village Voice
December 31, 2003 - January 6, 2004
' Pantone '
Massimo Audiello, 526 W. 26th
Jesse Bercowetz and Matt Bua's fabulously scruffy shanty chandelier -
festooned with scavenged scraps, tiny ladders, and flickering bulbs -
lights up a show that strays from its stated retro - color theme. -
The New York Times
Friday, April 4, 2003 A Space Reborn, With a Show That... Exit Art,
NYC ...Ward Shelley, Matt Bua and Jesse Bercowetz have constructed the
decidedly ponderous " Sweat Shop", a jury-rigged shanty-factory spewing
pollutants and carbuncled with old but functioning television monitors.
This irrational assemblage mixes real with fake on all fronts, from
posters that plaster its surface to the frantic assembly line, operated
by robots, that is visible in some of the videos... -Roberta Smith
JACK THE PELICAN PRESENTS:
Gentlemen, If I Had Been Able to Read and Write I'd Have Destroyed the
Jesse Bercowetz's crazy Merzbau of architectural assemblage, entitled
"Gentlemen, If I Had Been Able to Read and Write, I'd Have Destroyed
the Human Race," confounds the eye with its accumulations of cardboard
boxes, trash bags, duct tape, and empty Budweiser tallboys. Though in
"Mir2," the 2002 show at Smack Mellon Studios Bercowetz helped create,
the assemblages were inhabitable, Jack the Pelican's Outpost, 2003,
offers only a tantalizing glimpse of a bi-level interior through a red
plastic window. Lack of access might be the point--this show's running
joke is Bercowetz's self-mocking stance as an outlaw, and it's full of
textual allusions to badasses of all stripes (including, in one
recurring motif, Ted Nugent). The titular quote is attributed to the
nineteenth-century bandit Michel Caruso; Bercowetz's snarky
subversiveness, as much as his use of Day-Glo colors and photocopied
ephemera, evokes the postpunk East Village, a sort of pirate's utopia
in its own right. The walls of the gallery are papered with drawings
rife with battle-axes, tigers, and Bowie knives, all rendered in the
style of the high school notebook-cover virtuoso, but there are also
passages where Bercowetz's hand lapses into a noodle-y minimalism. In
one drawing, the words BAS JAN ADER are spelled out in pale blue
watercolor against a white void. The line of text trails downward
toward the right, recapitulating, with palpable wistfulness, Ader's
mysterious voyage off the edge of the map.
Author: Elizabeth Schambelan
01.17.03-02.16.03 Jack the Pelican Presents, New York
Time Out New York
May 15-22, 2003 Issue 398
" Street Selections "
The Drawing Center
...videos by Matt Bua, Jesse Bercowetz and Ward Shelley that document
their hilarious " Drawing While Driving " project, in which they made
drawings from inside a moving U-Haul. More than just a stunt. " Drawing
While Driving" drives home, in a rather physical sense, how artists are
always looking for something to fight against in their quest to create
LIKE A BAT OUT OF HELL
Drawing while Driving with Ward Shelley, Jesse Bercowetz and Matt Bua
By Sabine Heinlein -- Zing Magazine
Ward Shelley is wearing safari pants and a flannel shirt. His left leg
is raised in order to rest his foot on the driver's seat. His pants
have a big hole in the crotch that reveals his dark blue underwear. He
was going on and on about his newest insights regarding spaceships,
tunnels, platforms and maybe his father's sailboat. I assume he was
just about to get into the nature of beehives when I notice Jesse
Bercowetz staring at me, without a word, like a hungry animal. I decide
to jump to the back seat and sit with Matt Bua.
Matt, who is known for carrying his 18 Volt drill with him on blind
dates in the Upper West Side, mumbles something about U-Haul,
bankruptcy, and as far as I remember, some Championship Truck
Competition. On request, Matt sums it all up for me, beginning with his
typical high-pitch sigh: "Well? We plan to demonstrate all the great
features of U-Haul's new line of trucks. Even though we can barely
drive the things, much less show how nice they are. But when a company
such as U-Haul is about to file Chapter 11, they go to drastic measures
to keep their heads above water. That's why they'll hire us: For our
high-profile artistry and our extraordinary business sense. We believe
that they are pushing the avant boundaries by allowing us to let the
U-Haul create our work."
"We got it!" exclaims Jesse, "Drawing While Driving! The master plan!
A genius grant! We will return!"
(Don't worry, up to this point I didn't have a grasp on their upcoming
project either.) As Matt speaks, Jesse and Ward, who just returned from
Graz, Austria, where they had built a suspended cardboard tunnel , are
desperately trying to make sense of Matt's thesis and throw around
ideas that barely relate to it. These guys never sleep. Nor do they
ever have enough money to get a decent haircut or buy this lady dinner.
When asked why they would need the sponsorship of U-Haul: Jesse has
already spent all his savings on styrofoam and green fur to be attached
to his secret "laboratory". Matt "hid" his entire inheritance in one of
the 150 large wooden crates stacked inside his loft. And Ward's
finances? Uh, just look at his pants.
Anyway, the threesome is ready to tear down the city. They have
created a number of drawings that give detailed insight into their
rebellious minds. Though they sketched their past and future projects
quite nicely, the precision of the information is deceptive and doesn't
reveal anything about the possible results. They are even less
interested in being precise. Each artist also works on separate
projects, which creates confusion in the group, but also new points of
departure. In the end, they can't wait to build their own erupting
volcano made out of plywood and foamcore . They won't stop tinkering
with their spaceships until they are ready to take off and they'll keep
tunneling through foreign realms until their visas expire.
So here is the skinny: one person is strapped into the back of a
truck, another one is driving and the third one is riding shotgun while
giving advice via walkie talkie on what to draw to the one in the back.
The artistic outcome is unpredictable and chaotic, yet the idea's
narration idea gives you a beautiful taste of coincidence, danger, and
speed found in road movies but with an uncertain ending.
The idea of Drawing While Driving might mirror its final result. This
is like seeing yourself reflected in the puddle of oil accumulating on
the asphalt below the truck - a mirror that reflects the threatening
proximity of laughter and crying: two great gestures that step in when
any other method of communication fails.
In other words: If you had asked Jackson Pollock to describe the
process of his work, you would have probably gotten an idea about the
actual result. Ask the same of Mr. Bercowetz, Mr. Shelley and Mr. Bua a
hundred times and you would get no less than 150 completely different,
but highly entertaining visions, which, in the end, completely fail to
describe the finished product. And still, those visions may define the
artistic result insofar as the outcome will be a distorted reflection
of the ideas that serve as a (sometimes) purely imaginary structure
around the drawings. Similarly, the truck drawings and video footage
are displayed inside a replica of the truck at The Drawing Center.
Within the group's past projects there are quite a number of examples
in which drawings, collages and objects (funhouse-) mirror the physical
installations they inhabit - their "MIR" installations and the
installation "correction" serve as good examples. In the performance
Drawing While Driving, it is the act itself, the story web, and its
outstanding characters that build a physical and fictional structure
for the actual drawings.
Jesse, Ward and Matt are the evil triplets of Carolee Schneemann, who,
in the mid-70s suspended herself upside down from a harness to create
huge, swirling drawings as she swung from walls to floor in a
paper-covered room . Drawing While Driving appears to be the 2003
Jackass-version of Schneemann's trance drawings.
Their work also differs from Jean Tinguely's Drawing Machines of the
60s, which addressed the power of the consumer society. Whereas
Tinguely's machines supposedly leave the artist unemployed, Matt's,
Jesse's and Ward's work does anything else but. Rather than giving up
their roles as sometimes heavy-handed artists and "men" they seem to
emphasize and simultaneously ridicule certain artistic and male
stereotypes. These guys have brains and hands and no time to complain
about the artists' role in a capitalist society.
Bercowetz, Shelley and Bua have less control over their "drawings"
than Pollock, Schneemann and Tinguely have ever dared. Furthermore,
they have proved numerous times that they don't suffer from vertigo. So
their "master plan" comes across almost naturally. And once again, you
really do need three people to drive a truck to its full efficiency:
One man's driving while peacefully whistling a Swedish Death Metal
Song; The second one, riding shotgun, informs the third man via walkie
talkie about the beautiful blond that just walked by; and the third man
is suspended in the back of the truck, holding his walkie talkie in his
left and his magic marker in his right hand. Then man #1 steps on the
gas and drives like a bat out of hell. We are incredibly excited and a
little bit nervous about the result. But one thing in advance: to blame
it all on U-Haul isn't quite fair.
Site Specifics '02'
The Carriage House, Islip Art Museum,
Long Island NY
Among the 13 artists participating in this incarnation of the ongoing
series Of Car-riage House installations, eight have collab-orated an a
work in progress known as the "Mir2 project." This amusingly
dysfunc-tional space colony appears to have been inspired by reports of
the problems faced by residents of the Russian space station Mir,
famous for its longevity and its brushes with disaster.
The core of "Mir2" is entered along a makeshift ramp that threads Its
way into a room arrayed with a rack of protective clothing and banks of
television monitors-. Several of the monitors are inactive, shrouded in
plastic wrap as if mothballed or awaiting repair. Everything is
jury-rigged with duct tape and wire. as if the whole environment were
about to fall apart.
Outside, a putative life-support pod that connects to the core looks
like salvage from a science fiction disaster. Nearby, a similarly
lumpen mass of debris appears to have fallen from the sky (as people
feared Mir might do) and made a nasty crater in the yard.
The mischief will continue as the piece develops over the next three
Harking back to elaborate tree forts hosting gangs of neighborhood
kids, “mir2,” a group project organized by Ward Shelley, Jesse
Bercowetz and Matt Bua brought together dozens of collaborators to
build a complex of seven modules suspended from the ceiling of this
Brooklyn gallery’s two story main space. Linked to one another by
scaffolding, extension cords, and a profusion of thin steel ropes, the
modules were connected to the gallery only by cables anchoring them to
the ceiling and by a flimsy Styrofoam footbridge held aloft by mylar
which led to a mezzanine. Such playful blurring of functional, utility
and bricolage, served rather serious game of make-believe that wavered
between the childlike and the childish.
In an entry gallery, banks of old TV’s showed live and taped
footage(one couldn’t tell which was which)from inside MIR2,along with
abstract psychedelic and opish fodder. A jumpsuited woman at the
“control” desk, equipped with a Fisher Price baby monitor and a
Nickelodeon PhotoBlaster camera, acted as a kind of den mother to the
trio of artnauts who had opted to inhabit MIR2 full time for the last
three days of the show. She offered to play “relaxation tapes” for one
discontent who admitted the guys were starting to get on each other’s
nerves. The continuos sound track of droning white noise-which didn’t
seem to be generated by any onboard activity but was there more for
atmosphere-probably didn’t help.
Up in the complex, a guy in the requisite orange jumpsuit lay in a
hammock strung between two modules, scooting along a scaffolding on a
pulley system. Nearby another guy emerged from a cocoon-shaped pod,
hanging upside-down in low-tech sci-fi style. A sunny yellow plastic
pavilion showcased an i-mac and a sling chair; a third artnaut logged
off and held fort from here, chatting with visitors on the ground about
maintenance tasks and getting used to living up in the air, if not
quite in space.
Rounding out the “neighborhood” were a blimp like module with a
tie-dyed peace sign and a hexagonal nightclub/lounge pod lined with red
velvet and mirrors. A renegade crash-landing
module cobbled together out of Styrofoam,popcorn buckets, and other
refuse was devoted to “waste experiments”(traces of which had fallen to
the floor-empty Ho Ho boxes, baggies filled with suspicious brown
matter). Visible inside the module, a growth of pork rinds evoked the
futuristic farming of human skin. Hung higher than the others and
contrasting with them in its simplicity was a serene white pod, from
which dangled six torso/leg forms like fisherman’s waders. A celestial
It was heartening to see such stalwart scrappiness and communal
spirit in Brooklyn’s fast gentrifying Dumbo neighborhood. MIR2 recalled
the days of Ben Vautier and others living in shop windows in derelict
areas or chaining themselves to one another. It could also be seen as a
low-tech take on Andrea Zittel’s experiment with self-contained living
quarters, the early antics of Mathew Barney, or, in its boyish communal
spirit and gleeful use of castoffs, those of the impish Austrian
Still, the artists could have pushed it further. As the Russian
Cosmonauts invited their American colleagues to their hapless Mir2? As
it was, viewers were left just viewing-watching tvs or craning their
necks at the installation-amused but not enlightened.
The New York Times
Art in Review
November 9, 2001
Smack Mellon Studios
56 Water Street
Through Nov. 18
The Soviet space station Mir, or a witty approximation of it, is on
maneuvers in Brooklyn, manned by a crew of weekend cosmonauts under the
leadership of the artist Ward Shelley. Mr. Shelley, who recently
created an ingenious, Orgone Box- ish crawl-through environment at the
Pierogi gallery in Williamsburg, cooked up the idea for the Mir
project; but the final product is a collaborative effort, and it suits
Smack Mellon's two-story interior to a T.
Composed of connected modules suspended from the ceiling, the piece
vaguely resembles a molecular structure. And while it looks to be made
largely of wire, tape and colored transparent plastic wrap, it is
substantial enough to accommodate several passengers with sleeping
quarters, a dining room and a "luxury lounge." Shipboard activity is
monitered from the ground by a bank of video screens, some with
pretaped films, others with live transmission.
Actually, the whole thing is a sort of luxury lounge, an extravagance
put together with serious, hands-on skill by some 20 sculptors,
performers, and sound and video artists, the core group being Mr.
Shelley, Peter Soriano and Jesse Bercowetz. Think of a Thomas Lanigan-
Schmidt tabletop sculpture made monumental, or an early Matthew Barney
environment on a tight (very tight) budget, or the installations of the
self-taught artist Emery Blagdon and you get something like the idea.
All, or most, hands will be on deck today from 3 to 9 p.m. and tomorrow
and Sunday from 2 to 6 p.m. The crew will actually be living on board
for four days from Thursday through Nov. 18, and the show will be
viewable during regular gallery hours. The Saturday I was there,
everything seemed to be working just fine, which is more than one can
say of the original Mir. And with once-affordable Brooklyn neighboods
like Dumbo gentrifying at a horrific clip, artists in outer space may
just have to be the next frontier.
Communicating about Communication
Smack Mellon in Dumbo, Brooklyn shows an ambitious collaborative
"MIR 2 - WE WILL RETURN"
By Jean Kang and Sabine Heinlein
While outer space is way too huge for subversive elements, one might
say that the current show at Smack Mellon reaches its best when walkie
talkie signals from roaming neighbourhood kids interfere with those of
the artists in the "MIR 2" show.
"How are your turtles doing, Bercowetz?"
"I've got a turtle named Penis!"
Jesse Bercowetz's space pod (in collaboration with Matt Bua) is the
perfect example of how the "MIR 2" show blurs the line between work and
play, manhood and boyhood. Bercowetz touches on the problems of being
an artist trying to establish himself in an uptight art world in which
more time is dedicated to "making connections" than to working, playing
or creating (or what have you). Along these lines Bercowetz took this
opportunity to change the ways of the world (or the art world). In "MIR
2" he spends his time in boys' heaven experimenting with water turtles
and defending his pod with cardboard weapons. He is also supposedly
working on a human waste disposal system - 15 feet above ground --
under the guise that he will NEVER return to earth; only perhaps for a
pit stop. Bercowetz' found objects and fragments that were manipulated
and randomly attached to the surface of his shuttle resemble an
eighties´ action toy: Think Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, and Star
The question is: Once you've made it into outer space, is everything
Entering "MIR 2", the interactive multimedia group show of more than
20 New Yorker artists, one is doubtful. You are greeted by 20+ video
monitors, upon which if you're lucky you'll catch a glimpse of Carry
Dashow's performance as a one-woman Houston manning the controls.
Dashow's video and communications system transmits video and
conversations from the space units to the monitors and the speakers at
the gallery entrance. If you happen to live around Dumbo you might even
catch the live transmissions broadcast via the pirate radio station,
Inside the spacious gallery the highly elaborate pieces hang suspended
from the ceiling. It's an impressive sight. However, due to the
gallery's restrictions, they are fenced in, keeping visitors from
walking underneath the space station and seeing a truly bottoms up view
of the gigantic mass of pods.
Ambient and not so ambient static sounds by Mead Jones and Foil (who
recorded their performance on the night of the opening) heighten the
experience as one walks through the cold, blinking atmosphere of the
The "MIR 2" exhibit acts as a microcosm of the International Space
Station, which, in the future, is supposed to replace the original
Soviet Mir. As a collaborative effort, the exhibit is a result of what
happens when a lot of people come together on one project: they
communicate more about communication than content.
Watching the performance it became apparent that the artists had
difficulty communicating amongst themselves, and as a result, they
failed to form a cohesive vision, at least in terms of the actual
aesthetics of the structure itself.
Indeed, although the esoteric tie-dyed peace sign (Ann Shostrom) on
Ward Shelley's and Peter Soriano's huge blown up "Hindenburg" wants you
to think the opposite, the collaboration was more like an
extraterrestrial battle of wills than a harmonious working environment.
As an interactive installation, the viewer who wants to reach "outer
space" in order to communicate with the monkeylike "performance"
artists has either to wait for Julian Stark's robotic arm to reach down
and pick up a message or rely on walkie talkies, video, and radio
transmitters. But beware! Having your message picked up or sent doesn't
mean that it will be delivered as it was meant to be: Words get jumbled
and messages get lost, mimicking modern life.
Despite the obvious bickering within the group, each unit still
manages to enhance the other, and the pieces pull together as a more
wonderful whole. However, this is only under the rubric of living in
outer space, be it working, playing, relaxing, or resting in isolation.
On the whole the show in Dumbo provides another intriguing insight
into artists' game plans, in regards to the many and varied survival
tactics, that the contemporary art world demands. Some pieces are
transparent making the working artist visible inside (Shelley's and
Soriano's clear pod manned by Tulle Ruth), others are more of a
fortification. Matt Bua simply avoids any encounter with the (con-)
temporary art world, directly or metaphorically, by enclosing himself a
tight silver cocoon.
Even though an open field of opportunity was originally offered to the
participants some of the pieces unfortunately got stuck in the mastery
of construction or forgot entirely that every art piece has a
designable surface, especially in the case where the surface is all one
can see from below. Kanoa Baysa's luxury lounge is rendered practically
obsolete -- what good is the seduction of luxury when one can't even
The most romantic, and also idealistic piece of the show is Daniel
Seiple's styrofoam stairway, held afloat high above the other works by
helium-filled mylar balloons. His "Spacebridge" literally bridges the
other artists' work, but at the same time stands on its own in a
charming, playful, perhaps lofty way.