Last Thursday on 21st Street, a motley crowd of gallery-goers spilled onto the sidewalk in front of Family Business, the latest project space of artist Maurizio Cattelan and New Museum director Massimiliano Gioni. A far cry from the Guggenheim Museum—where Cattelan just wrapped up his retrospective and his artmaking career last month—Family Business is a mere 11 square metre of floorspace, annexed from the windowfront of Anna Kustera gallery. Smack in the middle of NYC's most lucrative art district and just next door to the Gagosian Gallery, it is sort of "a guest room," likens Gioni, "where people are invited to try out different formats and ideas, with really no pressure."
Despite the down-home intention, however, there was much ado on opening night about The Virgins Show, the space's inaugural exhibition. Marilyn Minter guest-curated, selecting four of her own MFA students from The School of Visual Arts to present work. They joined her along with an entourage including Cattelan, Gioni, note-taking press, photographers, and a fashionably ragtag-clad crowd of artists—all jamming together like guppies in an overpopulated fish bowl.
"Comparatively this place is a palace, it's our Versailles," joked Gioni, making reference to The Wrong Gallery, the Chelsea space he co-orchestrated with Cattelan and also Ali Subotnick in 2002. (Literally 100 times smaller, the "gallery" was just a locked glass doorway on 20th Street with a shoebox space behind, yet showcased work by dozens of solo artists ranging from Tino Seghal and Elizabeth Peyton to Lawrence Weiner.) "But unlike at the Wrong Gallery, there is more emphasis here on the idea of collaboration," Gioni explained. "We invite artists to show their work but also show the context of relationships, friendships and families in which that work is born—that's why we called the space Family Business."
One video monitor was installed high above the throng of people, looping videos by artists including Patty Chang, Laurel Nakadate and Mika Rottenberg, several of whom had also been Minter's students before their careers took off. "I asked them if they would become 'born-again virgins' for the length of the exhibition and show the first video works they ever made," Minter clarified. She asked to keep the screen on 24 hours so that it is always viewable from the street: "It's an excuse to show their work night and day." Meanwhile, art by the exhibition "virgins" seemed particularly apt for the celebratory atmosphere, at once rapturous and provisional: In the ceiling corners, painted balloons by Eric Mistretta gave a knowing, but participatory, wink to the often overblown importance the party plays on an artwork's merit; Rebecca Ward's installations of yellow tape conflated Op Art and stick-on wall decoration with insouciance, criss-crossing along the floor and up and under the seductively tactile paintings of her classmate Andrew Brischler. Meanwhile the tiniest canvas in the show by David Mramor proved to be the most electric, picturing a blurry JonBenet Ramsey—a memento of aggrandized youth and its attractors, both sinister and magnanimous.
"When we first met Marilyn, we felt immediately connected," said Cattelan on picking Minter to be the first curator of Family Business. "She was a natural choice: she's unstoppable, a true artist and a great teacher. She conceived of the show in direct dialogue with her students—and the installation was a total surprise until the last minute." The show's afterparty was held at Marilyn Minter's painting studio in midtown, where the NYC band The Virgins was to play a musical set to a full audience. Before people arrived, Minter made sure all of her paintings were out of eyeshot: "It would be tacky to make this night about my paintings," she said, "The kids did all the hard work... I just picked them and helped install."
Modesty seems to be a theme throughout: "Family Business was a natural evolution," Cattelan maintained. "The idea of reopening a non-profit space has always been appealing and in December the location made itself available." Though at the time, Cattelan had just announced his retirement as an artist—literally hanging up his entire sculpture career with a blowout Guggenheim retrospective of 128 major works dangling like a giant mobile from the museum ceiling—he avows that there was no grand scheme about what would happen next: "To say that I was planning my retirement while thinking of starting a new project would give me too much credit, chance and luck were the real driving forces."
And Gioni, recently named curator of the 2013 Venice Biennale, has similarly huge projects in the hopper but doesn't disparage Family Business's meager means in the slightest: "It is a completely different project of course. With Maurizio we always say that you can't go everywhere with a big Limo, you also need a bicycle sometimes. Family Business is our beat up bike." Emily Weiner is a New York City-based painter and art writer who teaches in Visual and Critical Studies at The School of Visual Arts.