The Bruce High Quality Foundation claims to have formed to oversee the estate of one Bruce High Quality, a "social sculptor" who reportedly died in the September 11 attacks. The truth is that the BHQF is a collective of anonymous artists who practice a puckish form of institutional criticism in a range of mediums. In 2008, for instance, they performed a "reaction," The Gate: Not the Idea of the Thing but the Thing Itself, in which they followed Robert Smithson’s Floating Island down the East River in a small motorboat towing an imitation Christo and Jeanne-Claude orange "gate." Last year they founded a free, unaccredited art school in Manhattan that teaches studio art and art history. Sarah Douglas checked in with the Bruces to see how they plan to keep their university "unprofessional" and how they manage to be both unknown and in the spotlight.
Art + Auction: How many Bruces are there? Do Bruces come and go?
BHQF: We don’t tell.
AA: How does it feel to see your work in a commercial event, like the NADA Art Fair in Miami this past December?
BHQF: We’ve shown in fairs and commercial galleries more often than people seem to think. The fair is a very hard context, because the frenzy of the art economy makes it difficult to engage a deeper art conversation. Nonetheless, it’s still a site for people to see the work, and if the work ends up in a collection, more people may see it and we can do more of it. Which isn’t to say that art fairs aren’t the site of some of the more artless parts of the art world. But ultimately, we aren’t interested in keeping the work hermetic.
AA: You also had a show in December at the W Hotel in Miami. Isn’t the social whirlwind there during Art Basel Miami Beach the kind of market-driven decadence you’ve been indicting?
BHQF: No, we’re not critics of the market, and we’re certainly not critics of decadence. We’re critics of desperation, of artists’ playing monkey to money. If you get rid of the collectors and curators and critics and dealers, you’ve still got an art world. Artists don’t always recognize that they are the ones holding all the cards. As for the social whirlwind, we’re bemused. We love a good party, but considering how we operate, we have a lot of trouble with rsvps.
AA: Your mission statement reads in part, "We aspire to invest the experience of public space with wonder, to resurrect art history from the bowels of despair and to impregnate the institutions of art with the joy of man’s desiring." Are you idealists? Bach fans?
BHQF: We consider our aspirations both ludicrous and entirely practical, which might describe Bach’s work as well.
AA: Do you fear you’re getting a bit overexposed?
BHQF: We’re happy for our work to get attention and for the university to be an active conversation in the world. We’re just not interested in telling people what to wear or how to cut their hair.
AA: What do you do with the proceeds from sales of your art?
BHQF: Pay for the Bruce High Quality Foundation University and make new work.
AA: How will your university create "a sustainable, unprofessional art- educational model?"
BHQF: Artists need to learn from each other. That’s all an art education can be. Our fear in opening the university was that it would lose steam, but we were proved wrong pretty quickly. People really want it to work, and they’ve got the energy to do it. We’re going to be devoting a lot more time to outreach.
AA: What’s the best response you’ve gotten to the school?
BHQF: Our neighbor came to complain about the noise from a school party we’d had.. She came in and found a group in the middle of a painting critique, and we explained what it was all about. Now she comes to the parties.
AA: "Conversation With Bruce High Quality Foundation" originally appeared in the February 2010 issue of Art+Auction. For a complete list of articles from this issue available on ARTINFO, see Art+Auction's February 2010 Table of Contents.