76 Grand Street
Thirty volunteers spent three days shredding two-thousand New York City telephone books in preparation for one of the most unusual exhibitions ever presented by a New York gallery: Dash Snow and Dan Colen’s NEST. Adapting their infamous “hamster nest” to 76 Grand Street, they revealed to the public a performance they had at that moment created only in private. The resulting pandemonium was on view, in addition to video and photographic documentation.
A “Hamster Nest” normally consisted of their shredding enormous amounts of whatever paper material they could get their hands on and ransacking the interior of their selected space in an exuberant overnight fete. Over the years this took place in hotel rooms all over the world, existing only in occasional Polaroids, video, and the memories of exasperated hotel staff.
On July 3rd, Dan and Dash invited fifteen fellow artists including Aaron Bondaroff, Hanna Liden, Jack Walls, Nate Lowman, and Adam McEwan to Grand Street, and from midnight to 8am, rolled around together in the waist-deep shredded paper to create this piece. One night proved not to be enough to complete their creative destruction and Dash brought a group of compatriots four additional nights. With paint poles speared into the wall, bottles protruding from hacked-up sheetrock, and a pummeling of enormous wine, pee, and paint spit-balls stuck to the walls, it seemed a great deal took place during these night-into-mornings. Dark and brutal slogans commingled with moments of love and tenderness as both sentiments went into creating this ambiguous dwelling.
While their truly over-the-top performance recollected early Fluxus experiments, the result of the melee physically resembled a very strange earthwork. One visitor described the piece as “The New York Dirt Room.” The room was exhibited just as the artists left it, trash and all, while the front room showed a video of a previous nest in Miami to give insight into this contemporary answer to a “happening.”
These two artists lived their art in a way that distinctions between the two became irrelevant when synthesized in a work of this nature. Dan Colen is a painter and sculptor known for his conceptually charged, realistic executions in paint of various objects in ruin. Dash Snow’s photography, sculpture, and collage work all captured Dash’s life as a radical dissenter living in dangerous times. But though their individual art projects were different, the sensibility and rebellious exuberance that ran through the work was exactly the spirit of this collaborative performance.
The artists themselves were not interested in the destruction that lies in their wake per-se, but sought rather a total freedom of expression, and an expression of their relationship with each other and members of their community.
This exhibition was truly “activated” during the performance staged on July 24th, when Gang Gang Dance and Prurient had fifty of the artists’ friends ecstatically throwing paper and freaking out in the nest. The show was dedicated to Secret, Dash and Jade’s daughter who was born the morning of July 23rd.
-- from the press release
The most outrageous project to emerge from our involvement with the circle of artists in Live Through This was Nest, with Dash Snow and Dan Colen, which we presented in the summer of 2007. Dash and Dan had come down to Miami for the installation of our Live Through This exhibition and book launch during Art Basel Miami Beach in 2005. One night during the run of the art fair, Dash and Dan invited all their friends to their hotel room, tore up dozens of phone books to line the floor like a hamster’s nest, and proceeded to roll around in total unconstrained freedom while being video recorded by Naomi Fisher. The DVD was delivered to our Live Through This exhibition the next day, where people viewed it transfixed.
I had a vision of presenting Nest as a gallery exhibition. I spoke with Dash and Dan, who were at first skeptical that a private ritual secretly staged in Dash’s apartment and various hotel rooms could be reconceived as a public event. After further discussion, Dash and Dan came to embrace the idea but had very specific requirements for a project that celebrated spontaneous behavior. Dan specified that we had to fill our gallery at least three feet high with the inside pages of shredded telephone books, and that the shredding had to be done by hand; he had found from experience that machine shredding created too much dust from the printing ink. We ordered two thousand telephone books and hired a group of Pratt Institute students to help with the shredding. After one evening of this, we realized we were getting nowhere, ending up with only a small pile of shredded paper. We put the word out, and within a few days, our gallery was a hipster version of a knitting bee, with thirty helpers quaffing beer and shredding phone books in a big circle. This shredding workshop was an extraordinary sight to behold. Our gallery assistants supplied pizza to keep the shredders motivated through the night. After about a week of shredding, we had made a lot of progress, but there was only enough shredded paper to cover about a third of the floor. In order to meet the deadline, we decided that we had to resort to a machine. We ordered three thousand more phone books and hired a mobile shredding truck to park in front of the gallery and devour the supply. In a few hours, the shredding truck had churned through the three thousand books. With trepidation, I invited Dan to come by and inspect the machine-shredded paper. He was very pleased with the quality. We had found out the shredder could be set to “wide,” and the result was shredded paper that was better and less dusty than the hand-cut variety. The gallery floor was piled high, and we were ready for the Nest ritual to begin.
With the gallery floor waist deep in shredded paper, and a good part of the Lower East Side artist community about to spend the whole night drinking, smoking, and rolling around in the Nest, we had a potentially explosive situation. One cigarette ash absent-mindedly flicked into the field of phonebook confetti while someone was spray painting with an aerosol could have ignited an inferno that would have incinerated half of the best artists of their generation. I asked Dash and Dan to come by as we were making our preparations, and we discussed the potential safety problems. They agreed that they would invite only a tight list of friends, with no one admitted who had not received a personal invitation in advance. To prevent the word from getting out beyond their circle, they would not tell their friends which night it would be until the day before. Knowing that most of their associates were smokers, we set up a smoking area in the side room, and asked that they try to politely keep people from smoking in the Nest. I bought fire extinguishers and prepped two of our coolest and most reliable art handlers to discreetly stand by during the night and keep on top of the situation. I hoped that they could resist jumping into the fray themselves. I asked two of our gallery directors, Nicola Vassell and Tanya Morgan, who know how to enjoy a party but can put on a tough front when needed, to manage the situation.
From the reports I got the next day, everything went smoothly for the first several hours. Most of the participants had been part of previous Nests and had a feel for the right balance between unconstrained behavior and artistic focus. A tough but beautiful composition of drawings, tags, collage, and sculptural incisions began to take shape on the gallery walls. Around 5 AM, just as the artists were winding down, a posse of street-tough club kids arrived outside, having heard that there was a party going on. Tanya found them prying open the overhead door and asked them to leave. Dash had heard the commotion at the front, and once a tough street kid himself, told the intruders that they could come in. They descended on the Nest and began to bomb the walls with spray paint, covering over the compositions that Dash and Dan had spent the past five hours subtly orchestrating. Then an unexpected guest arrived: Dash’s estranged wife, Agathe, tormented by the impending birth of Dash’s daughter with his new partner. Agathe started screaming hysterically at the top of her lungs, loud enough to wake up the neighbors and bring the police, which would have been disastrous. Somehow, Tanya was able to usher her out and help bring the party to a close. In the book designed by Dash and Dan that we later published to document the project, there is a photograph from the end of that night showing Dash standing knee deep in the Nest, igniting the spray from an aerosol paint can and creating a three-foot torch of flame. Great art is sometimes made by pushing a situation to the point of chaos, but knowing exactly when to stop. Dash and Dan pushed things right to the edge but luckily did not step over it.
When Dash came back to the gallery a few days later, he decided that the walls had to be painted over. The tags from the street kids had destroyed the delicate balance between intervention and intention that made the Nest into art. Over the next few weeks, Dash and Dan and their friends made regular forays into the Nest, creating a remarkable composition of drawing, poetry, and anti-form sculpture above the pile of shredded paper. It was an incredible sight to behold, unlike anything that had ever been seen in a gallery. We dubbed it “The New York Dirt Room,” a Dadaistic explosion of the pristine aesthetic of Walter de Maria’s New York Earth Room up the street.
Dash and Dan wanted to celebrate the completion of the Nest with a performance by Suicide, one of their musical heroes. They knew that I was an old friend of Alan Suicide (now known as Alan Vega) and asked if I could invite him to play. The gallery had presented an exhibition of Alan’s electronic anti-form sculpture and a Suicide performance several years before. Alan was thrilled to perform, but his partner in the band, Marty Rev, was traveling. We came up with a solution that was even better than Suicide performing on its own. We arranged for Alan to perform with A.R.E. Weapons, friends of Dash and Dan and one of the best bands to come out of the young art community. The Weapons are great admirers of Suicide, and the collaboration was extraordinary. The sound equipment was set up inside the Nest, and the audience jumped and rolled around in the shredded paper as the band performed.
One of the saddest chapters in the history of the gallery took place two years after the Nest, when we heard of Dash Snow’s death at the age of twenty-seven. We canceled our scheduled summer exhibition and immediately turned the gallery into a memorial for Dash. His friends on the IRAK crew covered the facade of the gallery with a giant fire-extinguisher version of Dash’s tag, SACER. Inside the gallery, we hung a selection of Dash’s work from our storage and art made by Dash’s friends in his memory. An immense pile of flowers and mementos turned the gallery into a shrine. More than any other person, Dash had been the center of the downtown community, with an unparalleled network of friends. I often see our card for Dash’s memorial, a Polaroid of him by Kazumi Asamura with Dash’s signature, on walls of artists and friends in his circle.
-- Jeffrey Deitch
March 8 - 11, 2018
We will present a special solo project by the artist JR.
Image: JR, Migrants, Walking New York City, 2015
April - May 2018
18 Wooster Street
76 Grand Street
New York, NY 10013
Monday – Friday
10 AM – 6 PM
Tuesday – Saturday
Noon – 6 PM
The gallery reopens with People in April 2018.
+1 (212) 343-7300
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