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

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