Welcome to the online publication for After the Plaster Foundation, or, “Where can we live?”, an exhibition of twelve artists and artist groups taking on questions of home, property, and the Earth, who has access to those things, and why. Many artists focus on New York as a crucible of activity, point in a global network, or documentary subject. As the artists ruminate on mobility and property, the impact of race on having a home, and art’s vexed role in gentrification, questions arise: Who can dream of stability and who can dream of movement? How to behave towards a city that’s changing so quickly?
Under Contents you’ll find a page for each artist with images of their work in the exhibition, some necessarily incomplete at the time of publication. Most also include an audio recording of the artist discussing their work and texts important to them, which are also available to read. Two participants chose to configure their pages differently, with a combination of text and video, and with the inclusion of a new project. This section also features four projects—two new and two existing—by cultural practitioners whose work deeply informed the exhibition.
The conversations with artists on which the recordings are based took place online between May 12 and June 24, 2020. As shelter loomed large in the show, it loomed larger amidst the pandemic. Who could and could not stay home? What kind of home can you shelter safely in? Crucially, how is this mapped onto race and class? Against the backdrop of COVID-19, and amidst the protests against police violence following the murder of George Floyd, the concept of systemic racism took its rightful place in our national conversation. It also plays a role in many of the positions laid out in this publication.
In the earliest of the artist-selected texts, Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch (1795), Immanuel Kant frames the rights of the refugee, then states that colonialism is in direct conflict with those rights: “Compare the inhospitable actions of the . . . commercial states of our part of the world. America, the lands inhabited by the Negro, the Spice Islands, the Cape, etc., were at the time of their discovery considered by these civilized intruders as lands without owners, for they counted the inhabitants as nothing.” Amongst the most recent texts are those adapted from Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s 2019 book Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership. Taylor demonstrates how, after redlining was banned in 1968, the real estate industry—perversely empowered by its partnership with government entities like Housing and Urban Development—continued to exploit and indebt Black citizens through a process of “predatory inclusion.”
The double exhibition title reflects the learning that took place, and that continued, over the course of planning the exhibition and this publication. The first title refers to the name given by artist, filmmaker, and luminary of the underground Jack Smith to the SoHo loft where he lived and performed. Though Smith had long been critical of something he called “clapitalism,” after his eviction from “The Plaster Foundation” in 1972, he injected frequent references to rent and “landlordism” into the titles and scripts of many subsequent works. It was more or less after 1972 that the twinned processes of deindustrialization and reinvestment into FIRE (finance, insurance, real estate) started in earnest in New York, leading in part to the highly inequitable housing outcomes in the city today. Many artists directly address New York City as the “real estate state.”
The other exhibition title was a question posed by artist Sondra Perry in our recorded conversation. Her work in this exhibition and her suggested readings propose that the desire to dig, to build, to possess and dispossess is not just an act of capitalism but that capitalism itself is based on white supremacy—a system that draws its strength from the exploitation and theft of livelihoods and property of black people. Her work, and that of others in the show, suggest this goes far back in time, far into the future, and into outer space.
After the Plaster Foundation, or, “Where can we live?” features works by Jennifer Bolande, Ilana Harris-Babou, Heather Hart, Simon Leung, Shawn Maximo, Sondra Perry, Douglas Ross, Peter Scott, Krzysztof Wodiczko, Caroline Woolard, and Betty Yu, and artifacts from the collection of Museum of Capitalism. Originally planned to be open April 5–August 16, 2020, the exhibition opened to the public on September 16, 2020. See the Exhibition page for a complete checklist of works and installation photography.