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“X” Marks the Spot

New York’s X initiative aims to change the way people look and experience contemporary art

The dimly lit street in West Chelsea was quiet, except for the noise buzzing out of the four-story structure that once housed the Dia Center for the Arts. Blue and green neon lights from the building’s stairwell, courtesy of Dan Flavin, could be seen from the street where art lovers – many of which were in town for the Armory Show – lined up to get a glimpse of the opening of X on Saturday night.

X, a non-profit organization founded by Elizabeth Dee and an advisory board of international art colleagues and gallery director Jenny Moore, will run a yearlong series of art exhibitions and programs. “We like to think of X as the piazza that Chelsea doesn’t have yet – a place where artists, art lovers and professionals can come together to look at art and discuss issues that are crucial to all of us,” says Cecilia Alemani, curatorial director of the project.

The project will be divided into four phases, one for each season of the year. Phase One, which will run from March to May, bridges the generation gap by showcasing the work of three artists from three different generations. The first floor features a complex installation of mirrors and wooden frames by Mika Tajima, which serves as a film set for some of his past and new works. The three upper floors showcase rare films by the late Derek Jarman while Christian Holstad transformed the rooftop into a high-end spa that takes a closer look at society’s obsession with body worship.

Dazed Digital: Where did the idea to start the initiative emerge?
Cecilia Alemani: Elizabeth Dee spearheaded the project. About one year ago, she approached the realty corporation that owns the building located on 548 West 22nd Street – the former Dia Center for the Arts – and she convinced them to generously provide the space for free. The owners of the building wanted to maintain the art mission of the space while opening it up to new opportunities. And in the current economic climate, they saw an opportunity to experiment with a new model, to try out something new.

DD: How can emerging artists survive the current economic climate?
CA: By working hard, by believing in their own work, by inventing new channels to distribute their ideas, and by creating new spaces for their work. Very often, it is in these moments of crisis that new languages and styles are created. Just think what happened at the very beginning of the 90s, after the crash of 1987 – the greatest artists of today; their gallerists, their collectors, and the museums that supported them, all emerged in the middle of an economic crisis.

DD: How will it affect the type of work that will be produced now?
CA: It is hard to make predictions because art has the ability of moving precisely in unexpected directions, but we can certainly imagine that high-production values will be less common in the future and that artists will work with much cheaper and available mediums. That doesn’t mean art will be less extraordinary. Think of an early painting by John Currin or a banquet by Rirkrit Tiravanija – they didn’t cost much to make, but they completely changed the way we think of art.

DD: Describe Phase One of X.
CA: Each exhibition was conceived especially for our venue. The three shows are very different, just as the artists are. What connects their work is probably the idea of desire – Jarman’s films, which are short home movies shot in his own studio in London and in other cities in Europe, stage a theatre of longing, sexual desire and nostalgia. Holstad’s installation engages with our obsession with beauty, and our need to constantly improve our looks and make ourselves more desirable. Tajima’s work investigates the way objects are constructed and made more seductive – she explores the power of display. There is also another subtext that runs through the three exhibitions: it is a return to the 70s, a historic moment that works as a model and myth worthwhile exploring today.

DD: Are there plans to take the show on the road?
CA: We are currently organizing Phase Two which will start in the summer and which will have a completely different rhythm, with short-term exhibitions and ephemeral events that will change more quickly. We think that X is such a special place that its shows cannot be simply replicated elsewhere. I think people now are more interested in exhibitions being specific, rather than just creating some sort of traveling circus. It is time to work with what is closest and dearest to you.

X will be free and open to the public beginning March 11th through May.