Artists Are Essential Workers / Art Is An Essential Service

09.08.2020 – 29.09.2020
Guild Hall Museum
158 Main Street
East Hampton, NY 11937

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The Garden of Friends
Leiber Collection
East Hampton, NY

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25.09.2020 – 27.09.2020
3day Weekend
The Fireplace Project
East Hampton, NY

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Warren Neidich’s new text based sculptural installation recently installed at Guild Hall Museum in East Hampton, New York, entitled, Artists Are Essential Workers / Art Is An Essential Service is a poetic enunciation and reaction to and resulting from the imminent catastrophe of the spirit in our moment of the Covid epidemic. Neidich’s first act was that of transporting a 76 inch by 126 inch solar powered electronic highway bulletin board, used by municipalities for messaging passerby’s, from the highway to the Guild Hall Parking Lot where its size and context produces an uncanny presence. As such the source of Neidich’s announcement is obscure. Is this message something ordained by the powers in control or the result of another voice outside its dominion? By installing his work in the museum parking lot Neidich continues a trend he inaugurated in in his now famous Drive-By-Art exhibition of annexing formerly unused spaces for cultural provocation. His provocative message Artists Are Essential Workers, Art Is An Essential Service is a shout out to the artist community and museum culture at large, whose importance is always precarious but whose very existence has been put in jeopardy during the pandemic. Neidich is reaffirming the importance of cultural production in  this moment of nihilism. Neidich’s piece is about asking a question: Can we imagine the healed human body without the healed human Spirit? Is it enough?  

Christina Strassfield, Museum Director/Chief Curator noted “Guild Hall was delighted to be the first stop on the tour of this important piece which brings attention to the important role Art and Artists play in our society. The sculpture helped inaugurate our John Drew Backyard Theater’s opening weekend. It will next be viewed at the Leiber Museum and we hope that it can travel to several other locations on the East End and perhaps return to Guild Hall for a final viewing.”

COLLECT X Warren Neidich: Artists Are Essential Workers (Mask)

Warren Neidich and Collect Interior have joined forces to support creatives during the COVID-19 crisis by launching a limited edition of wearable cotton masks inspired by Neidich’s art installation “Artists Are Essential Workers / Art is An Essential Service” (2020). The masks will be available to purchase exclusively through Guild Hall and Warren Neidich Studio. 50% of the proceeds from this collaboration will benefit Guild Hall in East Hampton. 


Warren Neidich on ‘the Emancipatory Capacity of Art’ in The East Hampton Star by Mark Segal

Bring on the Night in Whitehot Magazine by James Salomon

Artists Are Essential Workers in Sag Harbor Express

Artists Are Essential Workers in The Southampton Press

Artists Are Essential Workers/Art Is An Essential Service for the occasion of a special reading at The Fireplace Project by Warren Neidich

My first act was to transport a 76 x 126 inch solar powered electronic highway bulletin board (used by municipalities for messaging passerbys) from its normal resting place alongside freeways and roads to the Guild Hall Museum parking lot where its size and context produced an uncanny presence. Situating an artwork in a parking space reestablished a trend I had already initiated in my now infamous Drive-By-Art exhibition in which formerly unused quasi-public spaces were annexed for cultural provocation. The artwork then circulated throughout South Fork travelling to the Leiber Museum as part of the exhibition, Garden of Friends, to finally rest at The Fireplace Project. At each site, the work reacted to a specific set of contingencies embodied by the sense of place it occupied. At Guild Hall, as I mentioned, it colonized an alternative space beyond the hermetically sealed white cube normally used to display artworks. At the Leiber Collection, it joined a group of friends already exhibiting there, many of whom I had met through the Drive-By-Art project. In its final presentation at The Fireplace Project situated alongside Spring Fireplace Road directed towards oncoming traffic, it finally made it to a situation where it’s dual identity as both artwork and highway apparatus was allowed to express itself. Here it fulfills its historic purpose by engaging the simulated history and nostalgia of the Springs, most notably the Pollock-Krasner House just down the road, as the birthplace of Abstract Expression. However, Andy Warhol lived in Montauk, as did Peter Beard. Dennis Oppenheim raised hell here and, of course, we can’t forget the late, great Keith Sonnier, or the contemporary artists who call this their home; Eric Fischl, April Gornik, Mary Heilmann, and all the artists in this show.

In this rarefied cultural context the message board becomes a readymade platform with which to enunciate messages both troubling and significant. Can one say that “artists are essential workers” and “art is an essential service” especially during this global pandemic? Essential worker and essential service are terms usually reserved for the brave medical personnel on the front lines of the therapeutic panopticon established to battle disease at the medical frontier. At odds with this role, the artist’s position in society is as an outlier, bad boy/girl, anarchist, and recently entrepreneur. This pathos haunts deep pockets and makes the spectator uneasy. No doubt this also has something to with the recent denigration of the artist and artwork as a place of power and importance at the hands of the neoliberal art market, where cultural meaning and value have been subsumed by market value.

I am a romantic and this very romantic notion of an artist reaches back to the beginning of Modernism (and Romanticism before that). Artworks maintained an aura and provoked in the spectator a sense of wonder, soothed the aching soul and challenged crystallized dogma through its radical and enigmatic presentation. That is the rub from which this work establishes its pithy phraseology and creates a platform for the resuscitation of a bygone artistic purpose. I want to find new breaths and rhythms in the respirations of new forms of enunciation that my poetic verse launches in this moment of nihilism. For me, art is life and without it life is not worth living; a fortress against the agony of this interminable bungling of the Covid pandemic at the hands of an unruly narcissism and neoliberal fanatic federalism.

My piece is about asking a question. Can we imagine the healed human body without the healed human spirit? Is it enough? What will the post-pandemic art world and art system look like? Maybe it’s time to renegotiate the status of art as a commodity fetish, its primary raison d’etre, and rather understand the role of the artist and his or her production as a means with which to heal and generate social justice. With half of museums on the edge of bankruptcy and an equal number of galleries on the edge of collapse, the artist as a producer of alternative states of consciousness and solidarity is more crucial than ever.