PART ONE began May 11 with Andrea Fraser's performance over seven days of May I Help You?, 1991/2005, in the context of an exhibition-in-process including works by Luis Camnitzer, Moyra Davey, Gareth James, Nicolás Guagnini, Louise Lawler, Allan McCollum, John Miller, Christian Philipp Müller, Jeff Preiss, R.H. Quaytman, Martha Rosler, Daniela Rossell, Jason Simon, and Lawrence Weiner. Performances were held during gallery hours May 11– 15, 18, 19. The exhibition remained on view May 20– 22, May 25– 29.
May I Help You? was first performed at American Fine Arts, Co., New York, in January– February 1991 in the context of an exhibition produced in cooperation with Allan McCollum. In its original incarnation, May I Help You? paired an installation of 100 of McCollum's Plaster Surrogates,
1982, with actors (Ledlie Borgerhoff, Kevin Duffy, and Randolph Miles) who appeared to work as gallery staff during gallery hours for the duration of the show. Their job was to perform a fifteen-minute monologue for everyone who entered the gallery to view the exhibition. Written and directed by Fraser, the monologue engages formations of taste and social class and was developed from sources including de Coppet and Jones' The Art Dealers (1984); interviews with dealers, collectors, and artists; and the case studies the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu presented
in Distinctions: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste (1984). A video, directed by Fraser
with camera work by Merrill Aldigheri and performances by Borgerhoff, was also produced to docu-ment the event. In November 1991 May I Help You? was performed again, this time by Fraser herself, at the Cologne Art Fair in the booth of Galerie Christian Nagel in the context of
a presentation of works by gallery artists.
Engaging aspects of the installation of McCollum's Plaster Surrogates at AFA as well as the commercial display at the Cologne Art Fair, the 2005 version of May I Help You? realized at Orchard develops on the history of the piece. Once again staged in the context of a group exhibition, a Collection of Five Plaster Surrogates, 1982/1992, is dispersed throughout an installation that also includes historical works by Camnitzer, Miller, Rosler, and Weiner, as well
as works made after 1991, mostly by Orchard artist-members. The modernist-type display and domestic scale recall gallery exhibitions of the late eighties and early nineties. The quality of the Plaster Surrogates as signs for paintings work together with the anti-pictorial strategies of pieces by Weiner, Camnitzer, Quaytman, and James. At the same time, as "surrogate" collectables, they link these strategies to the reflections on collecting, taste, and domestic accumulation found in works by Rosler, Lawler, Miller, Davey, Simon, and Rossell. Connecting with the themes and tropes of May I Help You?, this diverse selection of works find an unlikely coherence in Fraser's monologue.
In the context of Orchard's inaugural exhibition, revisiting May I Help You?, now fourteen years old, introduces one type of relationship Orchard's program will attempt to draw upon: the connection between prior moments of critique and politicization in the art world and its contemporary conditions. While Fraser updated the text of May I Help You? only slightly for 2005, the immediate and confrontational experience of a live one-on-one performance creates brings this now historical work very much back into the present.
A new film by Andrea Fraser and Jeff Preiss of May I Help You?, 1991/2005, and the accompany-ing exhibition, is forthcoming.