The July 14 reception for group exhibition “The Patriot,” on view now at New York’s Alphabet City gallery O’Flaherty’s, only lasted about an hour before the New York City Police Department (NYPD) arrived, but no one can really say they were surprised. Featuring paintings, drawings and sculpture indiscriminately mounted salon-style over every inch of the gallery’s walls and windows, “The Patriot” includes the work of more than 800 artists who had responded to an open call posted to the gallery’s Instagram: “If it can hang on the wall, we will show it.” Several weeks of submissions later, naturally, opening night drew a gargantuan mob—participating artists, their supporters and impromptu street performers packing the sidewalk before the doors opened at 8 pm. Around 9 pm the police followed, and by 10, gallery cofounder and artist Jamian Juliano-Villani had already dispersed the crowd. “Thank you, go home,” she shouted repeatedly into a megaphone.
“The Patriot” is based on a simple premise: artists hate summer group shows. “You're slobbed together with a bunch of strangers who are totally unrelated to what you're about, and the rich people are out of town,” Juliano-Villani explains, but “if you thought you couldn't be in a more disrespectful group show, you were wrong.” At O’Flaherty’s, visitors view the works in the dark holding mini flashlights; there’s a Rob Pruitt print of pandas; someone’s watercolor of Jake Gyllenhaal and Kirsten Dunst; and Abraham Lincoln’s actual pillow—on loan from Ford’s Theatre, in an illuminated glass case. Through a black vinyl curtain over a doorway the size of a crawl space, the gallery mounted its own presentation: a robotic monkey inside a litter box with a bag of brownie brittle chained mid-air, backlit by stadium lighting. Somewhere in the chaos, I’m told, there are works by Dan Colen, Cecily Brown, Sarah Morris and a painting by Jordan Wolfson.
Reflecting back on the evening, “we had no idea people would wait in line to look at art in the dark,” Juliano-Villani says. “Watch, we probably all got lice at the opening.”
The event was both chaotic and iconic: wall-to-wall crowds squeezed inside a floor-to-ceiling hang, drinking cans of Budweiser printed with the American flag. Juliano-Villani also frames “The Patriot” as something democratic: “a show where everyone is treated equally like shit.” The works remain on view through August 10, at which time all artists must pick up their unsold pieces, according to an updated Instagram post; O’Flaherty’s will not be “dealing with shipping.”