The Bruce High Quality Foundation: Ode to Joy, 2001–2013
The Bruce High Quality Foundation (BHQF) is a Brooklyn-based institution composed of artists dedicated to preserving the legacy of Bruce High Quality, whom the Foundation describes as a fictional “social sculptor” who perished in the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center. Ode to Joy presents a selective overview of the Foundation’s work from the past decade, including video, sculpture, photography, and painting.
BHQF consistently makes reference to the cultural icons of the Western world. These include works by famous artists, such as Michelangelo, Diego Velázquez, and Pablo Picasso; aspects of popular culture, such as the Broadway musical Cats, Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the song “Con te Partirò,” popularized by Andrea Bocelli; and key moments in history, such as the Roman Empire, the French Revolution, and the Great Depression. Often assuming the form of a redo, a reenactment, or even a parody, the Foundation’s humorous and provocative transformation of source material raises open-ended questions. This pervasive tone of inquiry and reevaluation could be seen as reflecting a collective ethos of introspection and even self-doubt that overtook America following the events of 9/11.
The persona of the fictional Bruce High Quality appears in part to be modeled on two highly influential artists. One is the American Pop artist Andy Warhol (1928–1987), whose singling out of iconic images, whether soup cans, newspaper photographs, or celebrities, demonstrated a savvy understanding of the ways culture is shaped by the mass media. The other, Joseph Beuys (1921–1986), is a German sculptor whose ideas were disseminated in the United States in the 1970s. He coined the term “social sculpture,” an expansive concept intended to harness the creativity of all citizens to help bring about social transformation for the betterment of a worldwide democratic society.
This utopian ideal is consistent with BHQF’s concise mission statement that the Foundation was created with the goal of “fostering an alternative to everything.” While critically examining America’s place in a new world order, the work of BHQF simultaneously affirms the significant role that democracy as an ideal continues to play on the global stage.
April 1, 2013
A retrospective of less than 17,000 works created by The Bruce High Quality Foundation—which takes its name from a fictional artist named Bruce High Quality who purportedly perished on 9/11—will be presented at the Brooklyn Museum from June 28 through September 22, 2013. The Bruce High Quality Foundation: Ode to Joy, 2001–2013 will include works across a number of mediums, representing the Foundation’s work in subversive and often humorous installation art, painting, photography, sculpture, live performance, video and social sculpture.
The stated mission of The Bruce High Quality Foundation is “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.” The foundation employs familiar materials and objects in their work, from cars and refrigerators to Play-Doh.
Among the works in the exhibition will be the Foundation’s paint and photographic interpretations of French artist Théodore Géricault’s iconic nineteenth-century painting The Raft of the Medusa. The group will also create a site-specific classroom installation called The Stag Glares Back, their version of a Stations of the Cross series, depicting the World Trade Center and featuring a photocopier that speaks.
The Foundation has developed new approaches to the creation and display of art, with the goal of democratizing traditional relationships between artists and the public. They view September 11, 2001, as a seminal moment in contemporary history, and the ensuing wars and economic and cultural shifts have become a recurring concern in their projects. Their writings and performance-based works often combine past, present, and future histories, blending fact and fiction to encourage and reframe cultural discourse.
The Foundation’s spirit of collaboration and community engagement is also apparent in its creation of The Bruce High Quality Foundation University (BHQFU) in 2009, an unaccredited and tuition-free alternative to traditional models of art education. BHQFU offers students free classes, promising “an education in metaphor manipulation.” The curriculum has included courses such as “Occult Shenanigans in 20th/21st-Century Art,” “What is a Metaphor?,” and “The B.H.Q.F.U. Detective Agency.” The Bruce High Quality Foundation has also produced numerous films, among them, Isle of the Dead , a send-up of Night of the Living Dead that chronicles the dead- and zombie-led revival of the art world.
The exhibition has been organized by Eugenie Tsai, John and Barbara Vogelstein of Contemporary Art at the Brooklyn Museum.
Generous support for the exhibition is made possible by The Wall Street Journal and Absolut.