Artists Space

Mowry Baden

March 31 – May 5, 1984

In 1984, the Mark Rothko Foundation sponsored a series of exhibitions at Artists Space that would seek to grant exposure to more mature or established artists whose work had remained outside of a mainstream New York discourse. Mowry Baden’s exhibition was the third and final part of the series. The show consisted of three sculptures made out of modified bicycles, which were installed each morning on Hudson Street at 10 am and removed at 6 pm each evening, when the gallery closed. Baden himself took charge of security concerns, positioning himself each day at a discrete distance (usually behind a dumpster) to discourage vandalism.

The sculptures invited participation, but in an activity whose aims were probably at first unclear. Each bicycle was rigged to encourage the growth of a potted plant which was attached somewhere – on one a beet plant, another, a tomato plant, and on the third, watercress. Playing along always required discomfort of some kind on the part of the participant, by exertion, imbalance, or the jerking of the bike. The piece brought up questions of labor via exercise, the whole system working as a messy transfer of energy from body to plant. Meanwhile, there was a greater durational quality to the sculptures in the way that they embedded themselves over time in the everyday activity of the street. Baden described this effect as he observed it from his hidden position: “One guy, in particular, became a kind of tour guide. A lot of people were proprietary, but that happens with public sculpture. They become appointed owners, they appoint themselves.”