Neuwirth understands how the social dynamics of art are as interesting as art itself, in some ways are art. Inspired by the revival of interest in art society that came out of Greg Lundgren's Vital 5 Productions--where openings finally became fun, crowded, and drunken again, where you had to show up to be a part of it, and where every aspect of the art world that we take for granted went under Lundgren's peculiar microscope--Neuwirth is negotiating for a space in which to act out his own version.
Neuwirth's particular cosmology, the creative and intellectual universe that feeds his work, includes secret societies and undergrounds, the arc of fame, the process by which art becomes art, the permeable barrier between art and life. In Neuwirth's world, as in Joseph Beuys', the art is less in the object than in the action. His past projects have included a working construction site at the Bellevue Art Museum, ritualistic art-consecrating in a vitrine (I mean, Neuwirth himself was in the vitrine), and a paper suit and other flimsy objects of success sold under his ironic but also earnest trademark Resist.
The first Neuwirth production I encountered, Laboratory, was an assortment of made and found objects displayed in an empty car-parts warehouse. Some of the objects were hilarious--a tiny self-portrait sculpture, set in a corner and lit like an expensive car in a showroom--and others vaguely perplexing (strange, heavy objects like something out of Borges, a grid marked out on the floor, but Neuwirth managed to put a frame around this disparate spread and give it a unified feel. It was personal (an artist taking an anthropological and sociological and aesthetic look at himself), but also an utterly public, self-conscious display.
Black Cross is a similarly framed and layered enterprise, a symbol for an underground movement imitating a successful commercial enterprise (the hip and uninterpretable Paul Frank) and embodying characteristics of both the Mafia's self-contained forcefulness and a kind of random disinterested charity. (That "Mafia" and "charity" can co-exist in a single sentence gives you a sense of Neuwirth's humor and intellectual oddness.) Black Cross is a hiphop group, a music label, and a brand (with T-shirts and undies available at Wax On, 521 15th Avenue East, #A), but it's also a buzz, something gaining momentum along lines that run underground.
And buzz, of course, is a kind of participation in a performance. As are Neuwirth's other personas, as MC Resist (you can hear him on Endangered Species' "AFWFA," an homage to Lundgren's Artists for a Work-Free America) and as Gold Hick, a degenerate glam rock star who has already risen and fallen and is angling for a comeback. He's still looking for the stage for all these possibilities, for the space where the culmination of all the buzz and the art scene's collective longing for a solid, squalid, hearty, buzzy, starfucky event can take place. He's hoping to open Laboratory, wherever it is, within the next couple of months.
Neuwirth's philosophy makes reference to all sorts of precedents in art: happenings, performance art of the '70s, the artistic mechanics of Jason Rhodes, the pranks of Maurizio Cattelan, phenomenological theories, Dave Hickey's ruminations on being a spectator versus being a looky-loo. And there are already labels for the kind of place he has in mind--interactive, "performative," alternative venues--but this feels different. Neuwirth is poking at the very thing that makes an art scene explode or fail, that ineffable, variable element that beggars description. Never one to be daunted by the impossibilities of metaphysics, he's trying to describe it.
The lines between things that seem distinct are often more fragile than we think: between art and commerce, between irony and political fervor, between being an artist and being a spectator. Neuwirth's installations express these subtleties as they're being rowdily delivered into the world. And once this experiment is completed, once he has a satisfactory answer to a question not yet articulated, maybe inarticulatable, he'll pick up and start all over again--maybe here, maybe somewhere else, like the strange, random, charitable hit man that he is.