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With Furthermore, José Ruiz aims for more 'fluid' art market

From The Washington Post
By Jessica Dawson
November 5, 2010  |  weblink

Washington, José Ruiz has returned... sort of. (Don't define him geographically, please - the very concept of "place" gums up his fluidity, more in a moment.)

Since December, Ruiz - now 35, he's an artist, curator, resident of Queens, and erstwhile head of Decatur Blue, that with-it art collective that kicked around D.C. in the late 1990s - has been plotting an art-world revolution. His mission: standing up for the art world's unconnected and underfunded, while undermining the Chelsea art mafia.

Ruiz calls his three-pronged attack "Furthermore", which is both a business venture and a state of mind.

Phase 1 is a print shop, which opened quietly on Seventh Street NW two weeks ago and inaugurates the Furthermore insurgency. The Furthermore mission, written by Ruiz, reads like a Communist Manifesto for art nerds.

There's: "The system that governs the commercial art world does so by enforcing a language of inaccessibility and speculated value" and "predetermines who the participants are and whom the artists will have to work through in order to participate."

That translates to "you've gotta know someone named Larry, Massimiliano, or Tobias to get in the game." (As in Gagosian, the megadealer; Gioni, the New Museum curator; and Meyer, the Sotheby's contemporary art bigwig.)

And there's this: "The nonprofit system is fogged by bureaucracy, the constant begging of money, and a sense of conservatism that is instilled by their funders."

Ruiz would know. His four-year tenure as gallery director and curator for the Bronx River Art Center, which he concluded earlier this year to devote his efforts to Furthermore, taught him all the depressing news he needed to know.

His solution? Take the reins of "three intrinsic artistic functions that are compromised" and address each one. By his count, that's "production, dissemination, and demonstration."

The Furthermore factory - Phase 1: "production" - is a 750-square-foot inkjet print-making studio. Here, the manufacture of artists' prints will be managed day-to-day by Bridget Sue Lambert, 41, whom Ruiz recently pilfered from Annapolis's Aagpa Editions, where she'd worked for nine years.

Furthermore's print shop aims to undercut the prices of area entities - Chrome, Vivid Solutions - and cater almost solely to artists. The other artist-tailored outfit in town, pioneering printmaker David Adamson's Adamson Editions, works with a roster of megawatt Chelsea insiders - Chuck Close, Roni Horn, the Starn twins - that fall well outside Ruiz's target market. The money Ruiz raised to get Furthermore's print shop off the ground - $50,000 in startup costs, including the purchase of a $7,000 Epson Stylus Pro 9900 inkjet printer and $40,000 to fund a safety net and Lambert's pay - might equal the market price of one or two of Adamson's pictures.

The art market problems of inequity and insiderness aren't new. All manner of DIY entities have sprung up nationwide to proffer alternative, artist-run spaces that counter the insular culture of Chelsea and the Lower East Side. The difference between Ruiz and some of the others may be the soundness of his business plan.

The end goal for Ruiz - that's Phase 3, "demonstration" - is opening a gallery. But Ruiz knows better than to jump without adequate financial cushion. Hence the opening of two businesses, the first of which is the print shop; that can support the gallery and allow him to take curatorial risks.

Phase 2 - "dissemination" - will be a sustainable design entity that funds artists who make products aiding struggling economies. With Ruiz as curator, artists will transform good ideas into objects destined for third-world countries. Ruiz hopes to get the online-only entity up and running next year.

So why call the business "Furthermore"? Ruiz says he chose the word because you only use it in the middle of a conversation. You don't usually start a dialogue with "furthermore." He likes the connotation of fluidity and flow, of entering a stream of exchange.

"Fluidity" is a word that comes up a lot with Ruiz. In order to keep things more "fluid" - it's the language of Internet-age seamlessness - he prefers not to define himself geographically. By encouraging New York artists to work through his print shop in Washington - the third-floor space above Civilian Art Projects has a full bath, fold-out sofa, and small kitchen to accommodate overnighting artists - Ruiz intends to "bridge the flow" between the two cities.

As for the gallery space that'll mark the third and final prong in the Furthermore attack? Right now, he's considering Berlin.