On a warm September evening, two hundred of Art21’s closest friends, artists, and supporters gathered at Metrograph, a discreet indie cinema on a quiet corner of the Lower East Side. A cinephile’s arthouse dream, Metrograph was the perfect setting for Art21 to unveil our newest season of Art in the Twenty-First Century, which features sixteen innovative artists in four cities, shot by three exceptional documentary filmmakers.
Featured Season 8 artists Barbara Kasten and Edgar Arceneaux chatted with the season’s host, Claire Danes, who arrived in red heels with her hair pulled into a neat, elegant bun. Guests and Art21 staff helped themselves to striped boxes of popcorn and king sized candy bars from Metrograph’s concession stand, while more grown-up hors d’oeuvre and cocktails were offered by wait staff. The atmosphere was celebratory and anticipatory as guests made their way to the theater’s red velvet seats to watch the world premiere of Season 8.
Inside the theater, a still image from Diana Thater’s exhibition The Sympathetic Imagination—one we’d all grown familiar with as we prepared to share our new season—gleamed from the giant screen. The blue-green crescent of the earth shines against the silhouette of woman watching the planet, just as we all would soon be watching contemporary artists like Thater bring their work to life.
Artists and art lovers alike found their seats as the lights went down, but as soon as the episode began, everything else fell away. We came into the theatre with two hundred people, but in a few minutes we found ourselves alone with the artists in Chicago. Nick Cave’s colorful Soundsuits appear, bobbing and weaving in intricate dances. Chris Ware peddles a tandem bicycle with his daughter, as the trees and houses of suburbia blur to become the cartoonist’s own heartfelt narratives. Barbara Kasten poses light and plexiglass for her photographs, patiently rearranging her house of transparent cards each time it inevitably crashes to her studio floor. Theaster Gates sits at a pottery wheel, his hands caked in clay. The camera cuts to the library he founded, where he speaks about art and communities and the power of one to change the other.
An hour passes, and the crowd bursts into applause as the credits roll. Guests poured out into the lobby, and began to make their way upstairs for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. In the midst of the crowd, one viewer made his way to Executive Producer Eve Moros Ortega, who has been working on the series since its inception in 2001. “What did you think?” she asked him, almost nervously, to which he emphatically responded, “The editing just gets better every year.”
The night slowly wound down as guests departed with Art21 gift bags in tow. Gallerists, art critics, and nonprofit leaders strolled out into the city. While many of these arts leaders live and work in New York City, only blocks or boroughs away from the event, the evening collectively transported them to Chicago, offering a brief tour of a lesser known American arts capital.