The Keller Gates Project began on February 12, 2008 in response to socio-political currents in the United States and the New York contemporary art scene. The goal of the project was two-fold: to support and encourage a comprehensive and honest debate on the significant roles that race, age, gender and sexual orientation have in American society, and to speak directly to an art world more concerned with what can be monetized rather than what art is or has the potential to be.
During the course of the 2008 presidential campaign, media coverage of the character of the candidates was as more sensational than it was factual. The artist conceived a piece that offered a critique of politics and media in America: two parallel art installations presenting symbolic assassinations of the characters of the two leading Democratic presidential candidates, Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The difficulty in securing a physical space to display these works gave birth to a gallery exhibition unlike any other, arguably more real than the one that was initially considered.
The challenge of exhibiting the work was solved in virtual reality. The artist photographed several prestigious galleries in the Chelsea art district and digitally cleared the walls of existing artwork. The work that had been in the imagination of the artist was created digitally and inserted into the virtual environments. This seemingly simple move called into question who is granted permission to fill these hallowed walls, critiquing the exclusive nature of this corner of NYC's art world, and its relationship to emerging artists. An alternate reality had been created, with impact in the real world to follow.
The next step of the Keller Gates Project was the dissemination of the work. Websites were established for two fictional galleries, the Leah Keller Gallery and the Naomi Gates gallery. Proprietors, phone numbers, addresses, blogs, and wikipedia pages were created to project physical histories for the virtual galleries. 1500 people associated with the NYC art world were invited to the exhibitions, presented as real shows in real space, and were encouraged to make viewing appointments. Accompanying the invitation were website addresses allowing those interested to have immediate viewing access.
As word spread of the project, the creation of an imagined environment, presented via the internet as real, opened discourse about fiction, truth, and access and equality. Major media outlets fully believed in the existence of these shows, based on image alone, and endorsed their existence by posting reviews without visiting or even trying to contact the galleries. Self-fulfilling layers of commentary and critique reinforced the convergence of contemporary politics and art. The word-of-mouth and word-of-machine processes of information exchange and dissemination emerged as powerful alternate news sources, and the question of who to trust continued to be challenged, as bloggers began to influence mainstream media. Opinions that were filed online were discovered and misread as facts, prompting readers to respond in kind, and from there the process echoed, continuing to distort reality in a cyclic, endless fashion.
The next phase of the project involved the physical creation of a number of the pieces represented in the initial gallery images, and the exhibition of these works in a real physical space. At this stage the questions became more insistent. What is fact? What is real? What is art? What is authentic? The one-day show began to break down many participants' assumed constructs of reality, and the rubble was evident to all. The show was temporarily shut down while the artist was questioned by the Secret Service for his references to political "Assassination", prompting debate around freedom of speech The presence of the media and the spread of information remained of critical import to the work, as even other collaborators supporting the implementation of the project became unsure of the extent and the limits of the deception masterminded by the artist.
Further installations at the Art Director's Club, with discussion panels, wrapped the project. "Original" pieces from the "Assassination" shows were presented, surrounded in context by a sea of documented media interest, as the artist and fellow colleagues and participants sought perspective and insights by studying the results of a tumultuous year of augmented realities.
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