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This art is a steal! • Brooklyn Paper

This art is a steal!

Art for arts sake: Artists Rachel Steinberg, Aso Shinsuke, Elisabeth Smolarz and curator Marco Antonini pose at NurtureART, where the Is This Free? exhibit is in its first stage.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

If it’s free, is it art?

A new exhibit questions the value and valuing of art, with pieces like a metal bowl of ice holding a bottle of lemonade on a pedestal, a contradictory sign reading “please, don’t touch the art” and “please help yourself.”

“They have to think about it and decide what to do with the piece,” said artist Shinsuke Aso. “If the audience comes to the conclusion that it’s not art, they can drink the lemonade. If they think it’s art, they can’t touch it.”

The new exhibit “Is This Free?” at Bushwick’s NurtureART gallery is a playful look at the economy of fine arts when the economy is in a serious funk.

“It’s pretty clear why it’s happening,” curator Marco Antonini said.

“The financial crisis is changing the way artists see themselves. They see that they can’t be supported by the art market anymore, so they have to change their distribution process. They need to find ways to make art other than relying on selling it.”

And with a market unwilling to buy, artists’ works have nowhere to go — as the exhibit will demonstrate with a gratuitous three openings, all on the same wall space.

The show’s first opening was on July 6, its second is on Aug. 3, and its third on Aug. 31. The materials from the openings will be piled right on top of each other.

“The first one is sparse and minimal,” said Antonini. “[But] by the end, it will be a mess. The idea is to let the art accumulate, because when things are free, people tend to horde them.”

Another artist, Carrie Dashow, is working on a project for the Aug. 31 opening based on the imagined scenario that the priceless artwork housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art would hang in the average Brooklyn household — with a Carvaggio or Egyptian sarcophagus displayed in narrow hallways across the borough like a fine arts timeshare.

And no matter how beautiful, no matter how compelling, none of the art is for sale.

In fact, one of the pieces featured in the exhibit will be kept entirely from gallery-goer’s eyes.

Elisabeth Smolarz will strip naked to perform a series of simple and delicate gestures involving the eating of fruit, but her piece — titled “TANSTAFA,” or There Ain’t No Such Thing As Free Art — will occur behind closed doors. The piece aims to frustrate the expectations of the public, demonstrating value through exclusivity.

But in addition to the new pieces, the exhibit will have examples of formerly free art that went on to be worth high dollar values, such as posters that conceptual artist Jenny Holzer wheatpasted around Manhattan in the 1970s and original pins that Keith Haring handed out in the 1980s.

“Is This Free?” at NurtureART [56 Bogart St., at Harrison Place in Bushwick, (718) 782–7755, www.nurtureart.org] Running through Sept. 22.

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