Will Hutnick and Mark Joshua Epstein at Spring Break art fair
This is your second year doing Spring Break, correct? How does it compare to last year?
Will: On a formal level, we noticed more curators have painted their space this year and really made it more of a transformative experience. I think that was definitely encouraged by Ambre and Andrew, but I think that’s also the ethos of SPRING/BREAK–to transform the spaces as much as possible. I think the show has definitely gotten better because of that, because there is more of an immersive experience. It doesn’t necessarily have to be installation-based work, but it’s kind of tiptoeing into that area anyway.
Mark: Will and I co-curated last year, and Will also curated the year before with Christopher Stout, so for us this is the second year together in this office building and it’s really been useful to already have the knowledge of how the whole thing worked last year. We painted our booth last year one color, and this year we went with two colors and a pattern, so it’s a more intricate scheme.
W: Last year’s show was a group exhibition, To See The Moon Fall From The Sky, with maybe eight or nine artists, and it had this planetarium theme with artists looking upwards in order to potentially move away from reality or politics–it was right after Trump got elected. We painted the walls a deep purple/blue to reflect the night sky, and so for this year we wanted something a little livelier. Our show is called “The Songs Make a Space” and it’s devoted to the work of composer/lyricist Michael Friedman; we wanted a room that would be pretty engaging for people to come and spend time and sit down and listen.
What were your goals for the work you wanted to feature this year?
M: This year our project focuses on, as Will said, the late composer and lyricist Michael Friedman. Will and I are both painters and we make drawings–we make things and so it was fun to think about a project that didn’t involve an artist who made things. In 2016 I would often be in my studio working and listening to The New Yorker Radio Hour on WNYC premiering the songs we’ve used in this show. Michael Friedman did a project with them in 2016 called “The State of the Union Songbook,” where he interviewed people during the presidential primary season and then made those interviews, verbatim, into songs–although he did edit for length and clarity. So in contrast to the show we did last year for SPRING/BREAK with artists looking away from the realities on Earth, this [show] is all about looking at what is actually happening in the real world. When SPRING/BREAK’s curatorial theme was announced–“Stranger Comes to Town”, it seemed like a clear move to use these particular Michael Friedman songs in some way.
W: I think the nature of using Michael’s music and having specific individual listening stations at our booth is a nice outlet with a fair that’s pretty bonkers. People are kind of on art fair fatigue and overload: to even spend a minute or two in a space where you can listen to music that is in line with showtunes – and one vocalist and pianist – and to have intimate exchanges and an intimate encounter with one person in the country whose views you might not necessarily align with–who you might never have heard–and who you can definitely empathize with these individuals, is extremely valuable. I think it was important to create that space of empathy.
M: We made the space participatory to visually echo the main thrust of Michael Friedman’s State of the Union Songbook, in terms of showcasing a real range of voices and opinions. We’ve painted a turquoise and hot pink grid in our space. As visitors listen to Michael’s music they’re invited to respond through drawing or writing and as the fair unfolds, we’re hanging those responses in the grid spaces–so the booth becomes a big group show. Michael Friedman identified as gay, as do we, and he was a Jewish East-coaster traveling around the country, sometimes into hostile geographies. He was a literal stranger coming to town, conducting these really heartfelt and sincere interviews. The show is also in part an elegy, because Michael Friedman died in September 2017 at the age of 41 of AIDS. We’re not in the musical theatre community, but even just reading the New Yorker and the New York times, anyone could see what a shock his death was, and why an impact he had. We thought it was the right moment, in light of his passing, to try and share some of his work with the visual arts community.
What’s next for you after SPRING/BREAK?
W: There’s an exhibition that I co-created with Tara Foley and Jordan Hutton at The Wassaic Project which is still on view for the next few weeks, so I’m planning a panel discussion and closing reception for that on March 24th. I’m actually going to Chicago at the end of the month for a three person show at Level Three gallery, with Katie Halton and Mattias Merkel Hess, which opens Saturday March 31st.
M: I’m working on a two-person show with Todd Kelly which opens at the NARS Foundation Project Space in Brooklyn April 6th; And then I’m working on a solo show for Ithaca College that will open at the Handwerker Gallery in early September.
You can still buy work online from the show until April 1! Check it out here