The art world’s upper echelon doesn’t typically travel to Art Basel’s yearly fair for boxing lessons. However, in the imminent bubble doom of 2008, learning how to dodge, weave and roll with the punches might not have been such a bad idea. For their first exhibition, in 2008, Basel’s New Jerseyy art space opened a boxing gym. Curated by John Armleder and armed with a passel of his students, the gym held organized workouts and set up a few matches between artists. Since then, the space, founded by curator Daniel Baumann and artists Tobias Madison, Emanuel Rossetti, and graphic designer Dan Solbach, has presented shows that combine better-known contemporary artists—Cory Archangel recently partnered with the crew at No Soul for Sale at the Tate Modern—and community-based projects.
Many of New Jerseyy’s exhibitions, which include pizza dinners and movie screenings, are so casually deconstructive of the formalities of gallery-going and art fairs that they might be interpreted as a chilled out, non-didactic model of Relational Aesthetics. But the space is dedicated to its visual and performance-based program, and the social aspects seem more about providing an alternate reality to Basel’s identity as a blue chip playground with a fairground at its core. Says Solbach: “The fair has always been a part of us living and growing up in Basel and working in or with ‘the market.’ We realized that an anti-market (or in this case anti-fair) position doesn’t give anyone benefits. We don’t try to present an alternative to the fair; we just continue our program as we do throughout the year and try to make a good exhibition.”
A humble space located in a decidedly unbucolic area on the opposite side of town from the precious, touristed Old Basel, in a neighborhood ripped open by constant construction, New Jerseyy does represent a the trickle-down and the void that a seasonal, imported market economy can create. The name New Jerseyy, Solbach says, was based on the sense of living in an area of diffusion and overflow, “The area where we’re located reminded us of a fictional image we had of the state of New Jersey.” Adding the extra “Y” helps them “get better results on Google.” Says Baumann, “New Jerseyy always was and still is about knowing the language and playing with it to make space for art. We discuss a lot about what gesture has what meaning, how it can be and how it might be understood. Sometimes we do things because we know they will be misunderstood.”
During last year’s Art Basel, Norwegian artist Ida Ekblad painted the strorefront windows of New Jerseyy as if with soap, creating a expressionistic mural, highlighting the plainspoken seduction of truly good painting while suggesting that the gallery was closed. This year’s exhibition is helmed by New York-based artist Rob Pruitt, whose taste for excess has found a new inspiration: found American church signs that employ aphoristic slogans mangled with contemporary slang to do God’s work (an example: “Sunday’s Message: Jesus Said, Bring Me That Ass”). The gallery displays Pruitt’s collection of panda bear memorabilia.
One expects this exhibition will give Basel a big dose of New York art at its most willfully rambunctious, though these geographical distinctions may be more and more antiquated. Says Solbach, “The New York scene has always been important for us. Everyone now is up-to-date through blogs and communities, so we talk about art in New York as we’d talk about art in Switzerland.” In the beginning, New Jerseyy felt quite distant from power centers like New York, or even their own town. “Now, in our third year, the personal connections grew to a circle of friends and even fans,” says Solbach. “Apparently a lot of people know us in New York, which is still weird to me.”