X Marks the Spot

Published on VMagazine.com July 15, 2009.

In March of this year, X Initiative opened at 548 West 22nd Street, a massive and intimidating art space formerly home to the Dia Center for the Arts. X is not an art gallery, nor is it a museum, but rather a yearlong conceptual project aimed at capturing the cultural moment. Racing against the clock to showcase as much of today’s most crucial international artwork as humanly possible, founder Elizabeth Dee and some fifty board members keep up a constant dialogue on what is happening in the art world NOW, who and what they’d like to put their discerning spotlight on NOW, and how to make it happen NOW. Are you seeing a pattern? “We cannot get lost in endless debate!” Dee exclaimed when asked how the initiative’s limited lifespan affects decision-making.

Thankfully, going with their gut seemed to be working last Thursday evening, when the initiative unveiled its Phase Two, which includes a ground floor installation by Fritz Haeg and screening room sponsored by Electronic Arts Intermix, as well as solo shows on the ascending three floors by Keren Cytter, Luke Fowler, and Tris Vonna-Michell. Most popular, however—easily attributed to the warm summer night on which the opening landed—was Jeffrey Inaba’s Pool Noodle Rooftop, where guests kicked back on x-shaped lounges constructed from foam pool toys as a DJ spun classic rock and funk hits, facilitating photo-ops and insights on art over cold beer. Without question a new avant-garde meeting place on the west side (picnic, anyone?), the X Initiative beats the crowd at the High Line any summer’s day. We spoke to Elizabeth Dee following the day’s excitement. Patrik Sandberg

PATRIK SANDBERG X Initiative is only to be up and running for a single year. How has this influenced the decisions behind the direction of each phase?
We are using the building in a way that involves a wide variety of talents from the international art community in an unprecedented organizational format. The space itself has an important history and an indeterminate future and as a result is an ideal site for this particular project. There are over fifty advisory board members who all have the opportunity to propose programming ideas for that space. Surprisingly, the proposals have, so far, been incredibly in tune to the current landscape. The board really understands what we are trying to achieve and selecting and deciding upon the curatorial content has not been a struggle. The short time frame and resulting pressure has been a good thing.

PS Phase One of X Initiative featured the films of Derek Jarman, an installation by Christian Holstead, and the recent run of “No Soul For Sale,” which included work by several different art collectives. Is Phase Two part of an unfolding story arc for X?
I think it is part of the unfolding and unprecedented story of this particular year we’ve all experienced. When X Initiative opened, the financial situation in the art world had come to a sudden halt and it was a terrifying time. We’ve since gained some perspective on this and have adapted; we are more resilient for it. There is an urgency to this and we’re really passionate about presenting timely ideas before the perspective shifts again. The space is moving in time, along with the landscape, and I think we will see some sort of narrative when it’s complete. We’re just halfway through the project so we’ll see what happens.

PS How are the participating artists chosen for each phase? How would you describe the common thread that runs throughout their work?
Director Cecilia Alemani sends materials out to the board and solicits exhibition proposals for each phase and various board members are consulted and part of the selection process. Each phase of programming addresses a particular interest or conversation that is happening internally within the board.

PS Video work plays a large role in this phase of the project. Why is video such an important medium for 2009?
Video has certainly played a role and, of course, the space is great for the medium. International shipping or expensive production is not something we can realistically do. Although Derek Jarman’s exhibition was a major survey comprised of projected video, we’ve mounted ten projects so far, in two phases, of which three are video based.

PS What makes X Initiative an alluring art destination for summer gallery-goers?
Our summer hours are noon to 8 p.m. and the rooftop project by INABA is amazing and a great meeting place. EAI and other participants are hosting Thursday night screenings on the roof at 9 p.m. You can see the exhibitions, all of which are incredible, at 7 or 8 p.m. It’s a great atmosphere and we will continue to host weekly talks, performances, and concerts.

The view at Phase Two of the X Initiative, NYC, July 9, 2009
Photography Marco Roso