Jan. 2 - Feb. 9, 2004
177 North 9th Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn 11211
Noon to 6 pm Friday through Monday and by appointment
When I entered Pierogi for the opening, the first thing I noticed was that the gallery looked somewhat smaller than I had remembered it. Mounted around a center column, I saw a few monitors displaying images of some sort of construction work. That made sense, since Shelley's work typically involved some sort of construction. But there appeared to be no construction in the gallery, and little in the way of art on the walls. There was also no sign of Ward Shelley.
"Where is Ward?" I inquired. "In the walls," came the reply. Indeed, I realized the gallery walls had been built out to allow just enough room for a man to live inside. The video monitors interspersed footage of construction work with live feeds from cameras showing Shelley moving about inside the gallery walls.
I learned the concept was that Shelley would live inside the walls for the length of the show. He would be producing art, which would then be displayed in the gallery. There were, in fact, cabinet doors mounted in the walls. Opening one, I found an assortment of artist drawn tee shirts. Behind another was a small sculpture. One opening revealed a drawing on a paper scroll; periodically the scroll would spin forward to reveal a different drawing.
The title of the show is "We Have Mice." Well, not quite. The gallery as an artist living as a mouse in its walls. The exhibition description declares, "Ward Shelley has chosen the mouse for his mentor . . . in effect saying, 'I'm here but, I won't eat much.' The artist will be visible on video camera but will evade direct contact with the gallery staff and the public, only coming out for occasional nocturnal expeditions to forage for food, materials, and mating opportunities. In order to ease his financial burdens, Shelley will sublet his studio."
This portrait of an artist is remarkably different than the popularly perceived view of artists in successful Manhattan galleries where paintings by the young and socially connected can sell for six figures. Is it that Shelley would prefer to live and show in Williamsburg for reasons of artistic integrity, even if he has to be reduced to living as a mouse? This exhibition strikes me as a fascinating metaphor for Shelley's view of the role of the artist in the Williamsburg art world. His drawings aren't bad either.