Addressing cycles of power, change and chance in obsolete corners of public space.
A project conceived by Damián Ortega and Bree Zucker, TITAN was an outdoor exhibition in a series of phone booths located in New York City, presented by Mexico and US based gallery kurimanzutto. Running from October 12, 2020 to January 3, 2021, the project enabled twelve voices to take over the outer panels of twelve phone kiosks. In what the organisers term a “collective exhibition”, this intervention took place in the last life of these booths prior to their planned removal by the city, and during one of the most tumultuous presidential election and post-election periods in US history. It offered the premise that a gallery can exist in an open space, open at any hour, and free for all viewers, even in the middle of the night and aimed to open a platform for experience, imagination, and dialogue during a decisive time of great potential change. This exhibition continued kurimanzutto’s ongoing dialogue with a broad audience in the public sphere. Since its inception in 1999, kurimanzutto has consistently promoted projects and exhibitions outside of a traditional white cube space to stimulate cultural dialogue.
In an essay on the project republished below, Damián Ortega and Bree Zucker write about ways to define a new circuit of exploration.
Installation view of Hans Haacke, Wir (alle) sind das Volk [We (all) are the people], 2003/2020 for TITAN, New York City, October 12, 2020 – January 3, 2021. Image courtesy of the artist, kurimanzutto, Mexico City / New York and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. Photo: PJ Rountree
Installation view of Rirkrit Tiravanija, Ohhh… untitled 2020 (remember in november), for TITAN, New York City, October 12, 2020 – January 3, 2021. Image courtesy of the artist, kurimanzutto, Mexico City / New York and Gladstone Gallery, New York. Photo: PJ Rountree
TITAN is an intervention into New York City’s communication channels, specifically, within a series of phone booth kiosks. As a show, it is a way to enter a vein, a pre-existing path of fluid communication and distribution. It is also a way to define a new circuit, to delineate a new path, and to transform the pattern on the grid. While a traditional gallery space often marks a perimeter or sphere for contemplation, in this day and age, we believe in the necessity to open a space outdoors, for collaborative action. For our project, we saw an area of unused real estate and decided to define it in a new way. We are grateful to the twelve artists who accepted our invitation to engage with these spaces, in the streets of New York City.
The format of the TITAN project is the phone booth kiosk, latticed windows of steel advertising frames, which look out into other possible worlds and exist in the city as precise points on a grid. Experienced together, the points of these kiosks may be akin to acupuncture on a corpus, a body revealed through the landscape of an island. This island is of course Manhattan, and the TITAN booths along Sixth Avenue are a network of connected ideas, a series of dioramas broadcasting visual images, engaging each other through their mutual co-existence. Their advertising panels, real and yet illusory, become focal points merging into a panorama, which simultaneously reflects and poses questions to the external world.
These public advertising structures provide a space for intervention, allowing for sporadic ideas, flash actions that exist and disappear, to displace the establishment. Art often functions in this way, in a constant state of becoming, perpetually happening, and evolving in its meaning and its message. Our project reflects this constant action, as a pulse of energy, a sudden vibration on the streets of Manhattan, which will just as suddenly disappear. Formal or informal, serious or humorous, such transient action is a form of freedom, and uninhibited communication with a drive towards dispersion. Our impulse to move outdoors and to graft onto the circuitry of the city is a positive way to revive outdated hardware and to generate an event, which within each Titan, is an interaction bringing
Installation view of Glenn Ligon, Aftermath, 2020, for TITAN, New York City, October 12,2020 – January 3, 2021. Image courtesy of the artist, kurimanzutto, Mexico City / New York; Hauser & Wirth, New York; Regen Projects, Los Angeles; Thomas Dane Gallery, London; and Chantal Crousel, Paris. Photo: PJ Rountree
The twelve TITAN kiosks that support and become the exhibition are bordered by and exist in the shadow of other much larger Titans: Radio City Music Hall, UBS, Crédit Agricole CIB, MoMA, and on nearby 57th Street, the ghost image of Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century Gallery. In the time of a pandemic, these other Titans now appear as ghostly echoes of our own individual isolation.
Installation view of Minerva Cuevas, Capitalism 2020 for TITAN, New York City, October 12, 2020 – January 3, 2021. Image courtesy of the artist and kurimanzutto, Mexico City / New York. Photo: PJ Rountree
The title of our project, TITAN, is taken from a now defunct transit advertising firm. Likely, the original company name was borrowed from the Twelve Titans of Greek mythology. These elder gods, the first rulers of the cosmos, were eventually overthrown by their offspring. Cast off from power and relegated to the confines of storybooks, the Titans now jointly share their name with a moon of Saturn. This name then, TITAN, is redolent of orbits, circular motions, celestial, political, and cyclical power. It reflects a law of the so-called capital jungle: you rise, you rule, you fall. Our project addresses such cycles of power, change and chance, in the challenging and changing world we all inhabit.
Echoing this internal cycle, the exhibition is intentionally organized in a loop along Sixth Avenue, the Avenue of the Americas, in midtown Manhattan. Here, monolithic corporate structures stand shoulder to shoulder alongside a pastiche of landmarks. The twelve TITAN kiosks that support and become the exhibition are bordered by and exist in the shadow of other much larger Titans: Radio City Music Hall, UBS, Crédit Agricole CIB, MoMA, and on nearby 57th Street, the ghost image of Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century Gallery. In the time of a pandemic, these other Titans now appear as ghostly echoes of our own individual isolation. Through them we recognize ourselves and the quandary our world is in.
Installation view of Minerva Cuevas, Climate Change, 2020 for TITAN, New York City, October 12, 2020 – January 3, 2021. Image courtesy of the artist and kurimanzutto, Mexico City / New York. Photo: PJ Rountree
The TITAN phone booths stand on corners, spaced across, diagonally or catty-corner, each spying on, or overlapping with the next, so that new experiences, chance encounters, and jostling with strangers are all possible.
Chance and agency, in walking the city, are built-in components of the project. Encounters are open-ended and optional, dependent on each individual. Perhaps that is partly why it is so interesting for us to intervene on and in this new-old structure with the voice of a human. On an individual level, the TITAN kiosks still bear traces of human life and many can still host telecommunications. Their history tells an important story. At this moment of great change, humanity must be center stage.
Importantly, this exhibition need not stop at 6th Avenue. We remain alert to the messages on other TITANS, around the city, which may at any moment, join this project and share their own points of view. Together we are a voice, all together, we are the people.
Installation view of Anne Collier, Questions (Evidence) (Detail), 2011 for TITAN, New York City, October 12, 2020 – January 3, 2021. Image courtesy of the artist, kurimanzutto, Mexico City / New York and Anton Kern Gallery, New York; Galerie Neu, Berlin; Gladstone Gallery, Brussels; and The Modern Institute/ Toby Webster Ltd., Glasgow. Photo: PJ Rountree