Mar. 18 to Apr. 2, Secrets of the ancient 20th century gamers
by Mark Bloch
Reception: Wednesday, March 24, 6 to 10 PM
Meet the artist events: Saturdays, March 20 & 27, 1 to 7 PM
Emily Harvey Foundation, 537 Broadway 2nd floor, New York
Upon his 1982 arrival in downtown Manhattan from his native Ohio, Mark Bloch met many of the sixties generation of avant garde artists whom he had long been devouring in written form: artistic heirs to the legacy of Marcel Duchamp such as Dick Higgins and Alison Knowles, Jackson MacLow, Al Hansen, Nam June Paik and others. Many he met at the Emily Harvey Gallery, where, as a young mail artist, he attended openings, events and exhibitions for years, breathing in the sensibilities, techniques and strategies of the previous generation but without them being aware of Bloch's own secretive work in performance, video or the more traditional art forms, much of it squirreled away in storage lockers or his rarely-visited Lower East Side apartment.
Now for the first time, Bloch, age 54, is "giving back" to that community the late Emily Harvey helped to create, flinging open the doors of his various self-imposed vaults, and paying homage in that same gallery to those mentors of yesteryear with a display of Flux-inspired two- and three- dimensional works in an exhibition called "Secrets of the Ancient 20th Century Gamers" which itself will be presented as a game. Bloch sees the playful but rule-breaking work of the Fluxus, Happenings and Pop artists, "particularly in the 1950s before these activities had a name" as "adventures in poetic game theory" - "in particular "the most treacherous game in town but the one with the least consequences-the art world." Bloch has created a clever institutional critique that takes entertaining shots at that world-but also at his own reluctance to fully venture into it-in the form of an inmstallation of bound, wrapped and tied Storàge Museums. Storàge is an artform Bloch created ("accent on the second syllable like collage, assemblage, frottage," he says) to poke fun at the art hoarding mentality of many artists: "The artist must prevent at all costs, his work from ever seeing the light of day."
The Storàge Museums are trunks, cases, card files and other box-like enclosures, hermetically sealed, inviting an inner Houdini-like mental escape from any oppressive Bohemian attitudes that remain from the Old School pre-video game era
At this information art extravaganza, in addition to his "Erased John Cage Diskette" echoing Rauschenberg's "Erased DeKooning Drawing" and collages combining the detritus of Venice's Italian streets with portraits of its more famous residents, Bloch also draws on 30 years working via the post office as a mail artist with a stamp sheet composition of other people's stamp sheets, a large sticker made up only of found stickers, an extensive display of his mail art "zine," Panmag, and finally, a large mixed media collage of "The Death of Ray Johnson," the visual story of the last moments of his friend and teacher, Johnson-master collagist and founder of the NY Correspondence School-but surprisingly as seen through the eyes of the Pre-Raphaelite painters and poets.
An early entrant into cyberspace, Bloch (he got his first email account in 1989 and provides a visual pun about that) juxtaposes today's video-gamer hip hop culture against a thoughtful look back at the secret "rules" of a game that Bloch learned both directly and indirectly from Johnson as well as the likes of self-publisher Wallace Berman, his fellow "enclosure" artist Christo, playful Fluxists George Maciunas and George Brecht, as well as Modernists Duchamp, Kurt Schwitters and Cage.