Published March 12, 2009
Tonight is the opening of Better History, a big cross-generational group show that inaugurates the new reincarnation of 7Eleven Gallery (formerly of the West Village), presented by 7Eleven, American Standard Gallery, and O.H.W.O.W. in 7Eleven’s 40,000-square foot space in Chelsea. The names everyone knows—Ed Ruscha, Francesco Clemente, Tom Sachs, Laurie Simmons—are tethered to a younger crop of emerging artists, some of whom you may know (Tim Barber, Casey and Van Neistat), and some—including two Sebastians (Bear-McClard and Black)—you should. Maybe “tether” is the wrong word, because the most flattering history is usually the revisionist one. When I ask one of the co-curators of Better History, 23-year old artist-entrepeneur Nick Poe (who organized the show with 7Eleven founders Genevieve Hudson-Price, Caroline Copley, and Sabrina Blaichman, along with producer Claire Distenfeld), about getting a contemporary icon like Ed Ruscha to contribute, he says, “It was nerve-wracking. He actually gave us permission himself. We told him about the cross-generational theme, and he suggested the piece, New Wood/Old Wood.” In this diptych, an image of a piece of weathered wood sits below an image of a piece of new wood. The symbiosis—the old wood lends some weathered grace to the new, and the new revives the old—is representative of what Poe hoped to evoke with Better History. “This piece works perfectly,” he says.
The lineup’s smattering of progeny and protégé is telling. The wonderfully frenetic Neistat brothers were Tom Sachs’s star assistants, and it shows in their sculptures. “They’re very Sachsian, in a way,” says Poe. One sculpture depicts a chainsaw slicing through a chair—Sachsian, indeed. Laurie Simmons’s daughter, the 22-year old filmmaker Lena Dunham, has a video installation competing for attention with mom’s photograph, one taken in the ’70s, before Lena was born. The young co-curators bring with them relevant familial histories: Nick Poe is the son of filmmaker Amos Poe; Genevieve Hudson-Price is the daughter of the painter Judith Hudson (Genevieve’s father, by the way, is the quintessential downtown New York writer Richard Price); Caroline Copley’s father is the artist Bill Copley; and Sabrina Blaichman, whose father, the real-estate developer Bill Blaichman, owns the Chelsea space. Rather than cronyism, family is represented as part of a creative connective tissue. Look at the list of artists showing and you’ll spot some similar last names. Brothers Benny and Josh Safdie, of the Red Bucket film collective, are both there. “Josh is showing his old bicycle along with sketches of the bike,” Poe says. “Actually, he just found out that it used to belong to Tom Sachs.” Coincidence? In Manhattan, it rarely is. More than anything else, this is a downtown Manhattan show, born and raised. Most of the young artists in Better History grew up here. Poe and the young women behind 7Eleven are native New Yorkers, and many of these artists are their friends—or in the case of Harry McNally, also Poe’s business partner (in the downtown clothing collective Peg Leg). “I think every artist is a New York artist,” says Poe. “Except Ed Ruscha, who lives in LA. But we let it slide because he’s such a New York presence.” (Not to mention that he’s Ed Ruscha.) “In a way,” he says, “these are our self-portraits.”