Letter From New York

March 24th, 2015  |  Published in March 2015

Art week in New York has been stereotyped as an endless pit of marketable art floating in a sea of socialites perusing from pier to pier and down to Park Avenue in search of the next great buy. My experience at New York Art Week was anything but stereotypical. I visited the must-see venues such as The Armory Show, The ADAA Show, and Museums in-between, but what stood out to me the most wasn’t the exchange of capital for creation, it was the unexpected emotion that came from each unique venue.

The first stop in my New York art binge wasn’t a show at all: it was the sculpture garden at the Pratt Institute. We had gotten into town the night before and awakened to a winter wonderland that showed no signs of stopping. We laced up our black boots and walked over to Campbells Cheese to pick up breakfast sandwiches on the way to Pratt. Walking through the sculpture garden, it was hard to imagine that it could be more beautiful than when it was covered in silent snowfall. We stopped in the warm engineering building to finish off our Brooklyn Breakfast sandwiches, and stood with our elbows in the windowsill gazing out at the Greek fountain outside. After a quick visit to studio spaces, and a few cuddles with the collection of award winning ‘Pratt Cats’, we headed over to the Armory Show for my first dose of the art market.

Walking into Pier 94 and wiping off the slush from our boots, we checked our coats and immediately found friendly faces underneath a 6-foot tall fabric work that consisted of neon strings hanging down like greasy hair. Moving forward from that initial pop art piece, the hallway opened up and booth after booth after booth promised some sort of distraction from the deluge of people and paintings.

I won’t bore you with the details of the sassy older man with bright yellow shoes to make the installation in his booth, or the barrels of hay to sit on that were actually made of roses, or the pair of crocs that had been painted gold and put on a pedestal. There are plenty of inflammatory write-ups about the failures of the Armory show; instead, I’d like to share the two works that really caught my attention.

First was a work by Carlo Reiswitz that seemed at first to be an uncanny likeness of hidden temples overrun by the growth of vines and tress obscuring the once precious gods and goddesses. Upon closer inspection, it became clear that these images were manipulated to create this illusion and the detail, depth, and darkness that came across were absolutely rapturous.

The second work that stopped me in my tracks was a visual palette cleanser for the JV art world elite that inhabited the space, a sort of forced spirituality for the vain. Mexican Artist, Gabriel De La Nova , was able to elicit a strong response from the crowd with a simple mandala made out of used match books. The design itself seemed to have been inspired by ancient textile design and the medium played into the human need for fire. After 3 ½ hours it was time to head out the doors and back onto the slushy city streets.

The next morning was bright and clear as we headed to SoHo to visit the world’s first LGBTQ museum. As soon as you walk in the doors and look around, there is a feeling of reverence that overcome you, and makes you pause at each piece to take in the words, absorb the message, and move on.  The current curated exhibition revolved around Censorship and even includes a throwback to Mapplethorpe and his infamous “Self Portrait with Bullwhip” image. Even more jarring than that were the 3 large images scattered and hung on the back wall; the clear eyes of those photographed seemed to look through you and dare to snicker. These works were created by Swede Andres Serrano and were defaced by a local band of neo-nazis while on display in his home country. I found it interesting that they destroyed all vestiges of love between the humans involved yet found it perfectly acceptable to have a woman posing with a horse. It could be due to social norms of zoophilia, the sexual love of animals, since Sweden just outlawed this practice in 2013 and it still may be more socially acceptable to those of a hate driven nature than the love between same sex couples would be.

After leaving the beautifully intense and educational atmosphere of the Leslie-Lohman Museum, we hiked onward to Park Avenue and the ADAA Park Avenue Show Room.  The scene upon entering could not have been more different. Coming from a small, clean white box room in a contemporary building to the antiquated armory building was a shock. The charm of music hall hung in the air as I gazed up to see the light fixtures and baroque details consuming the interior architecture.

The show inside has always been considered the ‘old guard’ showcase where museum quality work is displayed from internationally credible galleries, including Cincinnati’s own Carl Solway Gallery. This year it was the Solway Gallery that really made a splash with their upbeat display of Nam June Paik work including a fanciful self portrait that practically jumped off the wall as you walked by the booth, and you couldn’t help but peek in further.

From Park Avenue to the back streets of Brooklyn, we made our way to the metaphysical occult bookstore known as ‘Catland’ for a late night book release reading from Art Academy Professor Ken Henson. Once again the scene was dramatically different; going from blue blood and bourgeois surroundings in Manhattan we now found ourselves in a small room that was painted completely black from floor to ceiling with nothing present except the two of us, a circle of folding chairs, and a small alter with candles glowing.

Eventually the crowd shuffled in and after hearing several poems Ken Henson launched into his diatribe and once Ken Henson stood up and began to recite his prose the room changed into a dangerous and hilarious bar filled with werewolves and barkeeps. After the reading we stuck around to look at the literature, jars of drying herbs, and to hear a rant from one of the booksellers about how Alistair Crowley was wrongfully given the name “the most evil man”. This was due to the fact that Crowley once wrote about “murdering thousands of babies a day” when he was referring to Onanism.  I think we can all empathize with having our sarcastic comments taken out of context like poor Mr. Crowley’s.

The last day started slowly after our nighttime escapades on the wild side and before we knew it, we had arrived on Broadway to see “Jersey Boys”. Since the show itself was a retelling of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, it was bound to be a hit. “Jersey Boys” blew me away, not only because of the skill of the actors, but also the amazing sets and intimacy of the theater. Having become accustomed to the vast space of the Aronoff, it was a pleasure to feel like we were sitting in the first row of a roller coaster that was taking us back in time.  It came as no surprise that when the crowd was filing out you could hear the soft hums of “Sherri” over the sounds of rustling coats and stomping boots.

The final stop on this overwhelming indulgence in art took place at the Brooklyn Museum on a Saturday night. From the moment we could see the roof of the museum, we could see the thousands of people that had congregated in one space to see not only the permanent collection but to view an opening of Kehinde Wiley’s “A New Republic”. On the 5th floor people moved in a slow and certain circle around the stained glass panels that Wiley had created which included a “St. Remi” that reflected his traditional style of ‘street sourcing’ his inspiration and melding modern fashion with Renaissance flair. Due to a 3+ hour wait and the clock ticking on our time in the city, we explored the permanent galleries which include Judy Chicago’s famous feminist work “The Dinner Party”.

For this Midwestern gal, it wasn’t the urban art, or female empowerment that left an impression. It was a simple portrait done by Harry C. Edwards in 1921 of a Dakota woman named “Handsome Morning” wearing traditional clothing and looking into the distance. Having just read “Black Elk Speaks” I connected to this image of a Native American who had grown up during a time of sure prosperity and instead faced an adulthood that stood in the wake of Wounded Knee. Behind me Kehinde Wiley empowered a new generation of African Americans, and in front of me a long lost tribe member was standing silent and patient, not speaking of the horrors that had visited her people in the past and in the current time.

Finally it was time to go, time to pack up my small red leather cat purse and hit the road. It had taken the entire trip for the first day’s snowfall to melt and finally the streets were clear just in time to drag our suitcases through the streets and up to Chelsea.  As we got off the L train for the last time and boarded the Midwest bound bus, I was left with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude to the city of New York and the people who work around the clock to make stereotypical events into emotional experiences.

–Katie Dreyer

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