Saturday, September 7, 2013

Twelve Years Ago and Five Years On: Things Fall Apart

As another anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks looms, I find myself reflecting – amidst a thousand other mixed emotions – on the reactions of New York's art world as it watched in horror as the Towers fell that day. Needless to say, the impact of the atrocity, and the feelings of stunned incomprehension and utter paralysis that beset the arts community for months to follow, is inextricably woven into the art history of that era.

Here Is New York: Remembering 9/11 An exhibition of photographs and artifacts at the New-York Historical Society in 2007.

Out of respect for the artists who were struggling to re-find their creative voice during the months after the attacks, I chose not to include in the book imagery of work produced during that difficult time. Much of it was deeply personal, reflective, fundamentally cathartic and never intended to leave the privacy of the studio.

This is not to say that other tragedies, cataclysmic events and life-changing crises befalling New York City across the five decades covered in the book were not put on record by its artists. Of the 40 color plates at the book's center, several depict not just the places and people who made up the era's history, but also the social, political or economic phenomena that informed – and as often as not infected – the zeitgeist.    

At this mid-September moment, another anniversary of sorts comes back to haunt us. Earlier this week the Wall Street Journal posted a chilling little Timeline on its digital edition, with slide show and videos of the months to either side of the Lehmann Brothers collapse on September 14, 2007.

Chapter 13 of Art on the Block – "After the Fall: 2007 to 2010" – examines the effects of the 'Crash of '08' on the arts community – not just working artists, but galleries, museums, collectors and the art world press. Opening with New York Magazine's ever-provocative Jerry Saltz's maxim that "Recessions are hard on people but they are not hard on art" – the dots are connected to earlier art world times of famine in the mid-1970s and early '90s.

Andy Yoder, All Your Eggs, 2009, 23 carat gold, clay, wood, excelsior, and shredded U.S. currency
Courtesy of Andy Yoder and Winkleman Gallery, NY

I share here some of the art that was made in reaction to the bursting art bubble of 2008. Acerbic, resigned, bewildered or just plain modestly scaled-back in the face of the new reality, these beautiful but trenchant works were very much a product of their time.

Susan Graham, Vessel for Safekeeping (Survivalism), 2009, hand glazed porcelain, and pewter
Courtesy of Susan Graham and Schroeder Romero Gallery, NY.

Tellingly, all three of the pieces shown here were produced as collaborative projects – either between artists or between galleries – nimbly adjusting to the new reality with affordable limited editions. The Schroeder Romero story and the history of the Winkleman Gallery are covered in the book and here they joined forces in a market-sensitive effort called Compound Editions. The artists materials of choice – whether Andy Yoder's shredded US currency, Susan Graham's ironic use of porcelain, or William Powhida and Jennifer Dalton's watercolor-benign but wickedly targeted boxed sets of condolence cards – all speak to the resilience of art in the face of ever-repeating cycles of economic adversity.

William Powhida & Jennifer Dalton, Our Condolences, Volume 1 (Original Card #5, All Good Things . . )
atercolor and pencil
Courtesy of William Powhida and Jennifer Dalton, Schroeder Romero Gallery and Winkleman Gallery, NY

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Season's Opening Sunday.

I am very much looking forward to (one of) the season's openers this coming Sunday. I will be wandering the exhibition openings on the Lower East Side with the advance copy of Art on the Block tucked under my arm and hoping to run into many of the people who participated in it. 

The gallerists of this newest of art neighborhoods – and the last chapter of the fourteen in the book – were especially enthusiastic about telling their stories. While I was not able to get to everyone as my deadline loomed and some fascinating backgrounds and bios did not make it in under my word count limits – I'm thrilled to have been able to add some of our youngest and brightest new art world rain makers to the art history timeline. 

Below, a listing of many of the galleries that will be kicking off the 2013-14 season on Sunday.

I'm also delighted to say that many of the names here are new to me, having opened after I wrapped up my research last Fall. Now that the book is done and my time is (reasonably) my own again – back to my regular rounds, seeing what goodies you have all got.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

To Brooklyn, From Brooklyn, With Love.

As the one year anniversary of Brooklyn's big, brash Barclays Center approaches, this week's New York Times gave some 'Bravo Brooklyn' coverage to the installation of Ursula von Rydingsvard's 19-foot-high, cast bronze sculpture Ona, currently being installed directly under the Center's distinctive oculus overhang.

While much play was made in the article of the German-born sculptor's 35 year tenancy of "a vast studio in Williamsburg", now 71 years old and at the height of both her creative powers and international fame, artists of Ms von Rydingsvard's stature are about the only ones still able to keep studios there.

Eric Heist, Ex (72 Berry), 2008, graphite on paper
Courtesy Eric Heist and Schroeder Romero Gallery, NY

Art on the Block gives two full chapters to Williamsburg and charts the course of its rise and demise as an incubator of artistic energies and a staunch defender of its own, home grown talent. In the earliest 1950s and '60s days of clandestine living in illegally occupied industrial buildings little in the way of community existed, fearful of discovery and eviction, artists even hid from each other. 
James Cathcart,  South 3rd St. and Hewes Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 1988, gelatin silver print
Courtesy James Cathcart and Causey Contemporary Gallery, NY

By the 1980s there was some fusion of a loosely knit community and by the 1990s enough raw likeminded energy to fuel multi-media extravaganzas like Cat's Head 1 and 11 in the waterfront's Old Dutch Mustard Factory. Impromptu and fiercely independent exhibition spaces like Four Walls proliferated, opening and closing as their purposes were fulfilled and the artists running them turned to other projects.
By the turn of the new century, however, the Manhattan spot light was beaming down on the outer borough as galleries proliferated and critics and collectors alike made the Williamsburg scene their darlings. Poaching of talent by Manhattan dealers and what were seen as traitorous defections by Williamsburg galleries decamping across the river left the scene depleted and interest waning. The era of Williamsburg as prime ground for artist-unaffordable condominiums and beyond-the-budget boutiques was inevitably underway.

Erik Benson, Brownnfield (site), 2010, acrylic on canvas over panel
Courtesy Erik Benson and Edward Tyler Nahem Fine Art, NY

And local artists working in Brooklyn put it all down in their work. Documenting the dereliction of the pre-hipster landscape, mourning the evictions and the co-op conversions but moving on once again to other enclaves – in Bushwick and beyond.

Deborah Brown, Dick Chicken #1, 2010, oil on canvas
Courtesy Deborah Brown and Lesley Heller Workspace, NY