“Spiders do not like living in galleries,” says curator Jenny Jaskey of the Artist’s Institute on New York’s Lower East Side. “They just don’t want to stay.”
Jaskey is referring to the group of nimble, brown cellar spiders crawling around the Institute’s intimate Eldridge Street basement space. She released batches of these spindly arachnids into the gallery three weeks ago as part of Pierre Huyghe’s current exhibition there, and many have since disappeared—venturing outside, burrowing out of sight, or getting stepped on at the show’s opening. But a few remain, slowly scaling the gallery’s matte-white walls.
The four-part show, or “exposure to witnesses,” as Huyghe calls it, examines the ways that spiders and other small organisms like flies and rats change, grow, and adapt over time. Inspired by chemistry, natural history, and evolution, the French artist’s scientific investigations have transformed the gallery into an experimental laboratory.
Huyghe’s meticulous program adheres to the distinct objectives of the Artist’s Institute, a non-profit organization established by Hunter College in 2010. Each year, the gallery mounts two six-month exhibitions of works by individual artists, which are supplemented by series of lectures and films, and aided curatorially by Hunter College graduate students. Past seasons at the Institute have been devoted to the work of Haim Steinbach, Lucy McKenzie, and Rosemarie Trockel, among others.
The aim of these long, but ever-changing shows is, as Jaskey says, “to give more time and attention to an artist’s work.” The gallery becomes an immersive space dedicated solely to the roots of the artist’s practice and process. This first installment of Huyghe’s show, titled “Il y a” (It is), reflects his fascination with physical processes like birth, death, and generation.
Jaskey reaffirms this on the second stop of our tour. After locating the spiders, she pointed out a large, metal grate hanging above the front desk. Two fluorescent, blue lights shine from within, resembling an indoor/outdoor space heater. It’s actually a fly zapper, she explains, by Mexican artist Fernando Ortega.
Every time an insect flies into the fly electrocutor device, the gallery’s lights are tripped, creating temporary darkness. The dead flies provide food for the spiders, and the darkness offers an opportunity to showcase Huyghe’s stunning, glow-in-the-dark creation Dress For Radium Dance . . .
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