Hipsters in Disguise

Shrouded in mystery, the Bruce High Quality Foundation has been covertly making work since the early 2000s. Eponymously titled for a fictional artist of the same name who perished in 9/11, the collective has created some of the most astute institutional critiques of the last decade. Despite its international recognition, the identities of its members remain a secret. What little is known is that they are a band of former students at hipster university Cooper Union that chose to work anonymously to combat the fame obsessed art-market. This reluctance to be in the overheated spotlight explains my initial attraction to visit their most recent opening at Contemporary Fine Arts in Berlin.

Trying To Expose The Man Behind The Curtain

I felt like a detective looking at their works in my attempts to discover clues to their identity. I looked around the opening, trying to spy on the visitors to see if they could be the man behind the curtain. Like a shitty episode of Law & Order, everyone was a suspect: was it the long-haired man with the coke bottle glasses? The young woman in red overalls? I went to ask the gallery assistant to point out the true artist, but no one could be trusted. Indeed, I became so transfixed by trying to find who was behind B.H.Q.F. that I nearly overlooked the work.

cfa-2Potential suspects at CFA this last weekend. Photo: Chris Phillips

I was familiar with their subversive performances, such as terrorizing a Robert Smithson installation in 2005. Yet what was on display at CFA was anything but subversive: upon seeing installed paintings, conservative sculptures and screenprints, I felt that maybe B.H.Q.F. had gone soft! The truth is that these works were just another building block in the aura behind the contrived figure of Bruce High Quality. For the collective, this show served as an exposure to his “religious side” that few people knew anything about. Some works were presumably made by the deceased artists and others were made in memoriam. A series featuring the burning World Trade Centers entitled “Stations of the Cross” was “revealed for the first time” as well as numerous self-portraits. Another series of screenprints featured a blue cow, a yellow cross and a purple mask, appropriately titled “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” The mix was nice: a combination of older, Rauschenberg-esque walls pieces combined with hip, contemporary artworks. This was a nice dichotomy of what an older artist would’ve made with what’s expected of young, up and coming artists. Although they weren’t blatantly showing their middle finger to the art world, this seemed like a clever passage in the epic lie of Bruce High Quality’s life.

The Best Of Both Worlds

As I left I was relieved I hadn’t uncovered the faces behind the mask. The story they were writing from exhibition to exhibition was intriguing, and I felt that knowing their identity would spoil the ending. This character around which the works were built, Bruce High Quality, and the foundation that honors him is within itself an amazing idea. As the years go on it will be interesting to see where they take this fiction; the collective has started an unaccredited art school in New York City, so the next step is anyone’s guess. Maybe we’re not so far from a full-length film or a monument in his honor. Whatever the case, their secrecy is their charm, and I hope the true identites behind the foundations remains a mystery forever.

  • Contemporary Fine Arts (Berlin) “The Transubstantial Bruce” – Bruce High Quality Foundation – February 16th – March 16th, 2013 [Est. Price Range: €2,000 – €20,000]
Article by James Shaeffer