Friday, May 4, 2012

This Side of Paradise and Whitney Biennial Art Shows

Two large art shows have opened in New York over the last two months and both will continue into the beginning of June.  One is the well-known Whitney Biennial 2012 [Biennial] and the other is a unique exhibition with the title, This Side of Paradise [Paradise]. Biennial, although smaller than many of its previous versions, features fifty artists.  Paradise, which is on display in a once-grand palazzo on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, features thirty-two artists.

Both shows offer a diversity of media and modes of presentation, from more-or-less straight painting, sculpture and photography to broader-ranging displays of video presentations, site-specific installations, performance and sound.

That said, the differences between the two shows are telling. Paradise has a directness that will appeal to any and all visitors. All its work is accessible and comprehensible on some basic level. Although it has wall plaques on each artist that offer context and help explain specific aspects of the work, these plaques are hardly requisite for the appreciation of the actual artistic creations.

Biennial, as is often the case, is geared for an audience attuned to more conceptual issues of contemporary art, and even as some works provide immediate visual appeal, many others require that wall plaque as a primary and essential step to conveying their message.  For one extreme example, as I was looking at the work of one of only two artists on display in a fourth-floor gallery, a very art-savvy couple, having read the wall plaque for the other artist, turned to the guard and inquired where they could find that art.

This incident, to me, is either a condemnation of the installation or of the art itself (and I would say, "both").  One might well ask why a major museum in one of its major shows would install art that is nearly invisible? Admittedly, this gallery required a certain level of darkness because the other art work in it was based on projected slides.  Nevertheless, were it not for the wall plaque, very few visitors would even be aware of this art’s existence.

This little encounter caused me to smile and recall a statement by the great French Philosophe, Denis Diderot, who often wrote public letters as a way of reviewing the academic Salons in the mid-18th century.   Because the most popular painter of his time was Boucher, whose facility for sensualizing and beautifying most anything with the stroke of a brush knew no bounds, Diderot asked for more, and so wrote: “First of all move me, surprise me, rend my heart; make me tremble, weep, shudder; outrage me; delight my eyes afterwards if you can.”

Two-hundred-fifty years later, our definition of art has expanded significantly; we accept the importance of conceptual art, which subordinates traditional material and aesthetic concerns to abstract concepts and ideas; and the production of the bulk of Biennial art is filtered through a conceptualist lens.   And so, as I consider the Biennial and such works as that nearly-invisible one, I am tempted to reverse Diderot’s plea to the artist and say:   “First delight my eyes, seduce me with your forms and colors;  only then offer me the further delight of hidden meaning, surprising details, emotional release, or socio-political references.”

After all, we attend these exhibitions to look at art; and the more emphasis an artist places on a strong, visual statement, the more accessible the art, and the more we are drawn in and engaged by it. A strong visual statement should be the “hook,” the thing that lures us in for a closer examination.

And so, I offer you the following photographs that I have taken of the art from both of these important exhibitions and invite you to consider how each affects you.  

First, however, I need to provide some background for the physical venue of the latter show, the Andrew Freedman Home.

Bronx, New York, Andrew Freedman Home,  Entry Gate; 1125 Grand Concourse. Opened 1924. Designed by Joseph H. Friedlander and Harry Allan Jacobs

Freedman was an early owner of the New York Giants and also the director of the IRT subway line--the Lexington Avenue line that connects Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx (with an elevated section that also served Queens). The Freedman Home was built in 1924 on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx as a retirement home for those of means who had lost their fortunes (as he once almost did).  Each resident lived here, rent free, including free servants, until trust money ran low in the 1960s.  After two decades of struggle, it changed ownership, the last of its original residents were moved out, and it became a more traditional residence for the poor for a decade.  Today it merely houses a Head Start day care center in its basement.

Bronx, Andrew Freedman Home, Main Façade; 1125 Grand Concourse

With the agreement of the building’s new owners, the New York-based arts organization, No Longer Empty, has organized this exhibition and is attempting to breathe new life into this once-grand structure and re-energize the Bronx community of which it is a part.  The selected artists also were given the opportunity to salvage papers, furniture, memorabilia and other items of “trash” that could still be found in the abandoned personal living units of the building’s upper floors; and so, many of these found objects have been given new life in several of the art installations of Paradise.

Each of the photographs below is identified by venue and artist. I will attempt to make some functional connection between, or among, selected artworks from each of the shows.  Naturally, I am not presenting all the works in either show.  Nevertheless, I will offer seven such connections, and then, as time allows, I will conclude with a handful of unconnected images, all worthy of our attention.

Art as Archaeology/Anthropology:

Whitney Biennial, Joanna Malinowska, From the Canyons to the Stars, 2012

From the Canyons to the Stars creates a composition from styrofoam and plaster replicas of walrus and mammoth tusks, native to the Arctic region. The composition imitates that of Marcel Duchamp’s Bottle Rack [1914], an industrial item for drying bottles that he termed a “readymade,” in that he simply selected the object and elevated it to the status of art. This readymade (see below) soon became a recognized totem within the art world--a transformation of a manufactured item into art.

Duchamp, Bottle Rack, 1914

Malinowska’s tusks, consciously arranged as if some Inuit totem--maybe even invested with unknown numinous powers--imply an archaeological connection. Both her work and Duchamp’s operate on the level of transformation of the material itself into a form that carries greater meaning.

This Side of Paradise, Linda Cunningham, Paradise Lost/Regained? Utopia to Survival
Linda Cunningham’s large installation, Paradise Lost/Regained? Utopia to Survival  combines canvas, distressed sheetrock, salvaged windows, photo laser transfers and collaged remnants taken from the early residents of the Andrew Freedman Home to create a ten-foot high, book-like set of pages.  In fact, its wings (or "pages"), fabricated of old window frame and sheetrock, draw us inside its various sections;  these sections act as chapters of this twenty-foot long “book” and should be read from left to right in order to grasp the chronology of the experience of the Freedman Home residents.  

This Side of Paradise, Linda Cunningham, Paradise Lost/Regained? Utopia to Survival, detail

This Side of Paradise, Linda Cunningham, Paradise Lost/Regained? Utopia to Survival, detail

This Side of Paradise, Linda Cunningham, Paradise Lost/Regained? Utopia to Survival, detail
Cunningham describes her work as a “narrative of time, loss, change and survival.”  A careful reading provides general and specific insights into the lives of individual residents of the Home as well as the history of the south Bronx over the past eighty years, from its utopian beginnings in the early 20th century and into and beyond its historic collapse after the 1960s.  This is a dense work that could easily be “researched” for hours by a dedicated viewer; yet, its basic structural framework makes such a strong artistic statement, that, as a whole it is easily taken in and absorbed in a few seconds.

Whitney Biennial, Kate Levant, Eyenter Integra Intra Impression

Kate Levant’s Whitney piece is a sculptural installation consisting of wall insulation, building cardboard, and roofing material, all hung from the ceiling with salvaged electrical wiring.  Levant rescued this material from a burned down house in inner-city Detroit.  She refers to this material as “wrecked, still trying to contend,” and asks us to consider this a sculpture “that suggests the eternal oscillation between life and death.”  

I’m not sure what to make of Levant's title, although in medicine “integra” refers to the sort of artificial skin that is used to cover burns and “intra” (as a prefix) signifies inside or within.  If “eyenter” is simply voiced, the title may suggest a person entering inside a derelict, burned-down house and collecting its internal skins (such as that sheet of insulation).  Like an archaeologist, she gathers artifactual evidence of 20th century Detroit’s socio-economic conflict and reassembles it into a new statement of hope. 

In contrast to its elusive title, Levant’s piece may lend itself more readily to formal analysis.  Imagine it as analogous to a three-dimensional assemblage of those early abstractions of 1913-15: the synthetic cubist paintings and collages of Picasso and Braque, or the Constructivist paintings of Kasimir Malevich (see below).  We might even view these early works as two-dimensional, working plans for her century-later, three-dimensional construction.

Georges Braque, Guitar [1913]

Kasimir Malevich, Suprematist Composition:airplane flying [1915]

Off the Wall:

This Side of Paradise, Scherezade Garcia, The Formerly Rich, detail: Letter
Scherezade Garcia’s contribution, The Formerly Rich, evokes the first residents of the Andrew Freedman Home in her room installation.   Centered on one wall is a single-page letter of thanks, written to Andrew Freedman by the Formerly Rich.  In it, they appreciate his understanding of their “reversal of fortune,” thank him for “enabling [them] to live in denial just a little longer,” and supporting their “life style, when in reality our world has been turned ‘upside down.’”

And so, honoring this phrase, Garcia takes much of her work off the wall and places it on the ceiling.

This Side of Paradise, Scherezade Garcia, The Formerly Rich
She has scavenged chairs, tables, a book and other personal belongings of the Home’s first residents to create a sitting room for their “upside down” world.    The third element of her installation is a series of painted drawings of gentlemen dressed in formal jacket and top-hat, a reference both to those former residents as well as to the patterned wallpaper of an earlier era.  As a Dominican-born artist with a strong interest in “history, colonization and politics,” Garcia sympathizes less with these original, cloistered residents and more with “the sound of salsa and reggaeton” that may be heard in the streets of the Bronx, right outside their window.

Whitney Biennial, Michael E. Smith, Untitled
While there is a logic behind Garcia’s choice to mount objects on the ceiling, such is not the case for Michael E. Smith.  His is the “invisible” work to which I referred in my introduction and which many Biennial visitors have walked past without seeing.  Smith has made four pieces: A work glove pinned above the window with two cables hanging down from its fingers;  a Hawaiian shirt that has been dipped in polyester resin to become unrecognizable and pinned to the ceiling;  a pair of sweat pants, also hanging from the ceiling and weighted down by a frying pan in one leg;  and a ball of ca. 10” diameter, covered with plastic and oatmeal, on the floor below the shirt.

The wall plaque does little to enlighten one about this work, in that it consists of the vagueries (forgive my word play) of “art-speak.” Here is part of what it tells us:  Smith “allows the nature of his materials to drive the creation of his art, inviting the finished works to determine their own dynamics and placement in the exhibition space.”  Should we, then, blame the works for their placement that makes them so difficult for viewers to locate? And, is there something in the nature of a metal frying pan that yearns to be dropped into the leg of a pair of sweat pants?   If this isn't bad enough, the overarching analysis offered up in this wall plaque is pure art-speak gobbledygook, as it claims that these four objects “seem to have emerged from the charred landscape of a postapocalyptic, science fiction dystopia.”  Wow!  Wells, Zamyatin, Capek, Bradbury: eat your hearts out!  But something always survives an apocalypse besides frying pans and plasticized Hawaiian shirts.  Surely, either the rats or the cockroaches would at least have made quick work of the oatmeal covering that ball on the ground!

How did I paraphrase Diderot? “First delight my eyes, seduce me with your forms and colors...”

Activated by Air:

This Side of Paradise, Cheryl Pope, Then and There
The room installation by Cheryl Pope, actually in his-and-her adjoining rooms, leaves some of the wall in its deteriorating condition to good effect--after all, ever since the 18th century’s attraction to the concept of the picturesque, ruins and the evidence of nature’s power to destroy has captured the imagination of artists.  However, the real attraction of her rooms is on the ceiling, which she has covered in faux gold leaf, leaving much of the leaf hanging down, subject to the vagaries of human movement and drafts.  When one stands in the room with its window open, the gentlest breeze will start the gold leaf shimmering and fluttering, as if one were accompanied by some presence, felt but unseen.

The second room also uses gold paint on one wall to write words that may invoke musical syllables: “titati,” “titato,” and also the Italian word for flower, “fiore.”

This Side of Paradise, Cheryl Pope, Then and There
Above these are what look like an “l” written in script nine times. Taken together, this writing reminds me of some of the drawings by the Italian Futurist, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, who reveled in free verse, used letters and phrases to visually imply movement and velocity, and coined the term, parole in liberta, or “words in freedom.” 

On the opening night of the show, and beginning in this room, a student of improvisational music from the New England Conservatory, Lautaro Mantilla, led a choir of non-music-trained, local Bronx residents in what has been described as a moving collective choral performance.  Thus, not only are the ceilings of these rooms activated by the movement of air; so, too, as air passes over vocal cords, these rooms were activated by “the collective meetings of song and movement,” as their wall plaque stated.  I wish I had not missed this event.

Whitney Biennial, Sam Lewitt, Fluid Employment
Sam Lewitt’s Biennial piece, Fluid Employment, consists of various shaped magnets placed on plastic sheeting on the floor and then covered with “ferrofluid,” a mixture of magnetic particles suspended in liquid. Attracted to the magnets, the fluid forms various shaped blobs that appear solid, yet the surfaces of which wobble and shake, a bit like un-firm Jello.  Fans blow air over these forms, hastening the evaporation of the fluid while also making the forms move and shimmer.   

Whitney Biennial, Sam Lewitt, Fluid Employment, detail
Ferrofluid is a high-tech material, but as applied by Lewitt, it becomes a form of process art, an art that is insubstantial and changes, and even is meant to perish over time.

Fabrication as a Tour De Force:

This Side of Paradise, Alejandra Prieto, To Handle

Three works, two in Paradise and one in Biennial, can be appreciated simply in terms of the virtuosity of their making. Chilean artist Alejandra Prieto’s To Handle look identical to a pair of elegant, black leather gloves. However, they are made out of coal.  Moreover, they are not cast from some mixture of powdered or crushed coal and a binder.  They are carved out of blocks of coal. Further interpretation is provided by her wall plaque: “The...exploitive conditions involved in coal extraction might be linked in these ‘gloves’ to the sweat-shop labor of garment production, both forms of ‘work’ intended for a consumer whose concern is only comfort and luxury.”  This unassuming display is a great piece of sculptural trompe-l'oeil.

Whitney Biennial, Elaine Reichek, Paint Me A Cavernous Waste Shore, detail
Elaine Reichek’s Paint Me A Cavernous Waste Shore, is an enormous tapestry.  It is a direct copy of Titian’s famous painting for Alfonso d’Este of Ferrara which is now in London’s National Gallery of Art.  Her title comes from the first stanzas of TS Eliot’s poem, Sweeney Erect (“Paint me a cavernous waste shore / Cast in the unstilled Cyclades....”). Were it not for the Eliot poem woven in at the bottom of this tapestry, one may well have assumed that a Gobelin tapestry had mistakenly found its way into the museum. Who does such complicated tapestries today, especially at this scale?   It is most certainly a tour de force.  Reichek, although originally a student of painting, says that she prefers embroidery and tapestry, “media traditionally associated with women.” 

This Side of Paradise, Federico Uribe, Persian Carpet
Federico Uribe sees his Persian Carpet as a re-imagining of “the sumptuous rugs that were a noted feature of the Andrew Freedman Home in its heyday.”  But this large and intricately patterned “carpet,” twenty-two feet by twelve feet, is a compulsive arrangement of everyday items, each of which could be associated in some way with the original residents of the Home: keys, coins, silver cutlery, dominoes, golf balls, pencils, tapered candles, etc.

Art Defining Space:

This Side of Paradise, THE POINT, Village of Murals
These three projects either create an entire, discrete interior space by dint of their arrangement or they make use of an entire spatial volume and, in so doing, transform it totally. The first two fall into the former category.   Village of Murals, an installation by the visual arts director of this Bronx community arts center, Carey Clark, and her artistic colleagues uses stencils on the walls, hangs white sheets at odd angles, projects slides and videos on walls and  sheets, and augments the ambiance with audio recordings.   The purpose of this installation is to document the significant spread of urban murals in the Hunts Point area, many of these sponsored by THE POINT.  Yet, the hanging sheets segment the room and transform it into an intimate and unusual spatial experience.

Whitney Biennial, Kai Althoff, Untitled
Kai Althoff, a Cologne artist now living in New York, had an untitled piece consisting of four elements: a handwoven scrim hung from the ceiling and bisecting the large second floor gallery; two paintings on silk, an irregular pentagon and hexagon, hung from the transparent scrim, and a mixed media sculpture on the opposite side.

Whitney Biennial, Kai Althoff, Untitled, later arrangement
By my second visit to Biennial, the scrim had been altered to create a room in the middle of the gallery, many more paintings had been added, only to be stacked in piles on the floor of this “room,” and a wooden staircase had also been placed inside it.  My impression was that viewers could not enter this room; the presence, in the middle of this large gallery, of a cubic, inaccessible space gave it an aura of mystique, as if it were some form of secular Ka’aba.  Althoff’s wall plaque only lists the original four elements, so any interpretation is left up to us. How refreshing!

This Side of Paradise, Sylvia Plachy, A Sitting Room: Remembering a Week in January, 1980

This Side of Paradise, Sylvia Plachy, A Sitting Room: Remembering a Week in January, 1980
Taking us back to Paradise, Sylvia Plachy recaptures ambiance of the Home residents in a work entitled,   A Sitting Room: Remembering a Week in January, 1980.   In that year, Plachy was a photographer on assignment for the Village Voice to take photographs for an article by Vivian Gornick on the Andrew Freedman Home.  Here she has returned to the same room and recreated it as she remembers.   In her words, the room “is my homage to those who once lived here in the the Andrew Freedman Home.... I was drawn to the gentility of the residents. They charmed me. They were haunting even then. They were so much like my grandmother and people I knew as a child in Hungary.... Please come and stay a little to feel their presence.” 

This Side of Paradise, Sylvia Plachy, A Sitting Room: Remembering a Week in January, 1980, detail
And to help summon their presence, to aid in the “haunting,” as it were, Plachy treats the window curtain with emulsion and faintly prints one of her earlier photographs of a female resident.  This, and the aural presence of recorded music taken from old vinyl 78 rpm records, completes the transformation of this delightfully welcoming room.


This Side of Paradise, Bronx Documentary Center, Tim Hetherington, Diary
In one of the rooms of the Freedman house that was purposely left in its state of disrepair, the Bronx Documentary Center ran a continuous showing of Tim Hetherington’s Diary.   Hetherington, who was killed in Libya in 2011, was one of our finest multimedia artists: a documentary filmmaker, foreign journalist, photographer, and war correspondent.  Diary is a personal and subjective compilation of footage from his years as a war correspondent, made, as he writes, “as an attempt to locate myself after ten years of reporting.” 

This Side of Paradise, Bronx Documentary Center, Tim Hetherington, Diary
How fitting it is to stand in this dark room which, itself, looks like part of a war zone--littered with debris, dirty papers, ripped window screens, and crumpled rugs--and watch these documentaries of chaos in the conflict zones of the world.  This is a powerful and chilling installation.

Whitney Biennial, Werner Herzog, Hearsay of the Soul
The potential for an equally powerful experience might be found in Biennial’s room dedicated to a piece by German producer and film director, Werner Herzog.  This work, which Herzog calls Hearsay of the Soul, is essentially a work of artistic appropriation. In a spacious, wide and darkened room, Herzog projects digital images on five screens of landscape etchings of the 17th century Dutch artist, Hercules Segers. These projections zoom in and out, scroll and shift as a way to overcome their static nature as still images, and they are accompanied by the music of Ernst Reijseger. The music, as heard in the darkened room, can be quite moving. Segers etchings, which lose all sharpness projected at this large scale, are hardly compelling and argue against Herzog’s curious claim that Segers should be considered “the father of modernity in art.”  I wanted to be moved, but curiously wasn't; maybe I ought to have closed my eyes and disregarded the Segers slides and simply let the music wash over me.

What was the difference?  In Diary, Hetherington looks into himself and his life and exposes what we might deem are fragments of his soul.  It is visceral and rational.  In Hearsay of the Soul,  Herzog looks beyond himself to find an artist and some music that inspire him and possibly have some affinity with his own work.  But this is more subjective, and one needs some blind faith to understand why Segers is here at all.  Maybe Herzog realized that this installation might have a problem, because here is his comment on it:  "If Segers' images and my films do not speak to each other, but for a brief moment, I hope they might dance with each other."

Visual Delights:

This Side of Paradise, Adam Parker Smith, I Lost All My Money in the Great Depression and All I Got Was This Room

This Side of Paradise, Adam Parker Smith, I Lost All My Money in the Great Depression and All I Got Was This Room

Several rooms just seem to work in terms of artistic choice and homogeneity of treatment. I Lost All My Money in the Great Depression and All I Got Was This Room is California native Adam Parker Smith’s rendition of some early patterned wallpaper. Only everything here is three-dimensional, meticulously applied with the aid of a hot-glue gun. We can find donuts, cookies, plastic flowers, miniature plastic shoes, candies, leaves: nearly everything under the sun in a joyous display of color.

Whitney Biennial, Nick Mauss, Concern, Crush, Desire

Whitney Biennial, Nick Mauss, Concern, Crush, Desire, detail

The major element in Nick Mauss’ piece, Concern, Crush, Desire, is an entry vestibule made from velvet and appliqué that apparently reconstructs a chamber designed in 1939 by Christian Béard in Paris for the cosmetic company, Guerlain.   I’ll spare you his stated intentions, which are totally irrelevant;  but he has created a gorgeous space, slightly classical, like a Roman Pompeiian bedroom, and the appliqué lines in white, black and grey look like thick paint, only much more sensual.

This Side of Paradise, DAZE, Furthur
The Brooklyn-born graffiti artist known as DAZE has taken a room that, as he tells it, had “fallen into disrepair” and gave off an institutional coldness, and so he animated it with a colorful warmth and “an oncoming rush of colored clouds.” In the corner of the room, he placed a hair dryer and a framed picture of the Virgin Mary, two items that he salvaged from elsewhere in the Home.

This Side of Paradise, HOW and NOSM, Reflections
The twin brothers, Raoul and David Perre, are the graffiti artists known as HOW and NOSM.  With the exception of the circular, shield-like form, which stands in as their recognizable “tag” in the left background, they have not treated this room with their normal spray can art.  Instead, they have covered the walls and ceiling with pyramidal forms of cardboard and the floor with mirrors. Besides creating a room of dizzying illusionism, their diamond-shaped projections are meant to remind us of “a soundproofed hip-hop recording studio,” thus, once again, implying an "invasion" of the Home by the Bronx culture from beyond its confining walls.

Here I end my rather arbitrary attempt to make comparative connections between the two shows;   I also won't make any broad judgements between them.  That I'll gladly leave to you.  But I will present several more works from each venue that I consider worthy of examination.  Let's begin with the Whitney Biennial.

Other Art from the Biennial:

Whitney Biennial, John Kelsey, Depesrsion, Impoetnce
This is a very clever piece of conceptual art.  It simply consists of two inkjet prints mounted on aluminum presenting two poems composed of what may be termed "found language."  What seems nonsensical or poorly spelled in these poems (and their titles) is actually a now-common strategy for evading junk-mail filters, and Kelsey initiates these poems by harvesting spam emails that he received.  He then "shuffles" the content of these messages to complete the poems.  The left-hand column serve as his "footnotes:" a list of the names of the email senders.  Kelsey, an art critic and gallery director, explains these poems as follows: "Literature is gone, junked, (ex)communicated, but it's also everywhere. It merges with programs where its DNA is altered and put back to work, returning as abstract, authorless poetry."

Whitney Biennial, Dawn Kasper, This Could Be Something If I Let It
This is part of Kasper's Nomadic Studio Practice Experiment, in which she carries her studio with her and sets up wherever she happens to be or is invited.  Although I know that she has been here and interacted with visitors, she was absent in all three of my visits to the Whitney. All I encountered was a room crammed with stuff.

Whitney Biennial, Nicole Eisenman, Untitled
Eisenman exhibits a series of monotypes which owe their main formal inspiration to expressionist artists such as Edvard Munch.  She sees her work as exploring the "human condition," and angst would appear to be the dominant emotion.  In her words, she depicts a "world in which meaning is elusive if not painfully unavailable."  These words capture much in Biennial.

Whitney Biennial, Jutta Koether, The Seasons III and II
 Koether encourages us to see references to Nicholas Poussin's Four Seasons of ca. 1660, but with more contemporary references to fashion and finance.  Besides the large scale of her works, and the fact that there are four of them,  I'm afraid that the connection to Poussin eludes me. 

Whitney Biennial, Tom Thayer, Leonidov's Steps, The Whelming, et. al.
Tom Thayer offers a bit of everything, and all you see here is his: cardboard; crayon; string; wire; painting; and, in video, animation, color and sound.  He offers a form of contemporary surrealism and is intentionally combining aspects of high and low art.  The Whelming, the red painting on the back wall, offers an interesting take on Rauschenberg's combines.

Whitney Biennial, Luther Price, Handmade Slides
 This is what I was watching--the other piece in the room--when that "art-savvy" couple couldn't find the work of Michael Smith.  Luther Price is best known as an experimental filmmaker, but in this room he uses slides that have been buried, scraped, overmarked or otherwise distressed.  Many of this series juxtapose images of Christ or Mary with scientific slides of insects, in particular the fly.  One can invent compelling and disturbing personal iconographies from this series.

Whitney Biennial, Lutz Bacher, Pipe Organ
Bay Area artist Lutz Bacher has assembled a Yamaha Organ, four corroded organ pipes, hammers from the action of an old piano, and a computer program that controls random silences and sudden sounds.

Other Art from This Side of Paradise:

This Side of Paradise, Lisa Kahane, South Bronx Portrait Studio
While Dawn Kasper hauled a large truckload of potential art-making material into the Whitney for her Nomadic Studio, Lisa Kahane keeps her travelling portrait studio simple: a table, some chairs, a raised podium, and a few of her photographs on the walls.  Here she takes candid and posed photographs of her visitors, which she then posts on-line.  I managed to sneak in a candid shot of her as she was posing a studio visitor.

This Side of Paradise, Martine Fougeron, Trades/Oficios/Métiers
Photographer Martine Fougeron has exhibited a selection of her project, Trades/Oficios/Métiers in the South Bronx, in which she focuses on the industries of Hunts Point and Port Morris and reveals the dignity of work and "forgotten trades."  Fishmongering, baking, printing, steel production, recycling, its all there as she captures the pride of her subjects, and then mounts each photograph on an industrial baking tray.  Her work is particularly vital, not only for the neighborhoods of the Bronx, but also for our country in these times when one of our political parties has been denigrating work and destroying unions.  William Morris would be proud of Martine's noble purpose. So should we all.

This Side of Paradise, Abigail Larkoz, Strangers May Care More for Your Sentimental Debris
Larkoz's large ink drawings on paper are abstractions of the personal objects, broken furniture, papers, and other debris that she first encountered when she saw the abandoned rooms in the Andrew Freedman Home.  In her words, "I wanted to create a paradoxically overflowing and luscious pile of trash."

This Side of Paradise, Mel Chin, Messages to the President--Straight Off the Streets
Conceptual artist, Mel Chin, films Bronx residents directly on the streets, asking each to state what urgent message they would send to the President of the United States.  What the viewer sees is each person silently staring into the camera while her/his message scrolls along the bottom of the screen.  An audio track  accompanies the video and sounds like rumbling and thumping.  That soundtrack is the heartbeat of each interviewee,  taped by Chin.  This is a powerful and moving video;  and a copy has been sent to President Obama.

This Side of Paradise, Nicky Enright, The Ravages
Ecuadorian multi-media artist and DJ, Nicky Enright, has assembled a derelict piano and eight manual typewriters (all salvaged from the Home) and created an audio sculpture of a recording of his accompanied by the percussion sounds of typewriters.

This Side of Paradise, John Ahearn, Headstart AM & PM
Sculptor John Ahearn recognizes the students of the Headstart program that uses the basement of the Home in this large wreath of hands as well as in several other casts.  For decades, he has cast the  residents of the Bronx--a sort of contemporary Diego Rivera of socially realistic sculpture.

This Side of Paradise, Cheryl Pope, Shove
Cheryl Pope, who also decorated the two rooms with gold leaf, "shoved" anniversary plates through a sixteen-foot, free-standing wall.  The distant, straight-on view resembles an elegant abstraction of birds in flight.  Close-up, the "'take that' gesture...serves to assault the nostalgia of memory and the token 'kitsch' commercial product that passes for meaningful connection."

This Side of Paradise, Gian Maria Tosatti, Spazio #05
Tosatti, an Italian artist from Rome, works in the area between art and architecture.  His idea for this room is that, as its inhabitants and their artifacts have disappeared, the only constant has been light.  Thus, he fills the room with the only materials that light cannot bleach and transform: the sink, a metal cabinet, and glass salvaged from elsewhere in the building.  The light on the glazed floor becomes the art as it varies depending upon the time of day, transforming the room, in his words, "into a cave of memory, loss and contemplation."

This Side of Paradise, Justen Ladda, Like Money Like Water
Light and illusion are major elements in the art of Justen Ladda.  In this room, the residents of the Home, having long ago lost their fortunes, are resigned to their fate (as the title suggests), and they continue to eliminate.  This is like a pithy, one line joke, but a good one.  In a similar way to the vast, illusionistic ceilings of the Roman Baroque era that work perfectly for the viewer only when standing in one, specific spot, so Ladda here marks the viewer's ideal footprints just beyond the threshold of the room.

This Side of Paradise, Cope2, Painting the wall on opening night
Long time graffiti artist Cope2, from the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx is seen here, painting the Wall that separates the Andrew Freedman Home from the Grand Concourse on the opening night of This Side of Paradise.  I'm happy that I took this and one other photograph, because somebody defaced the mural in the early morning and it had to be completely removed.

Unfortunate as this act was, it remains in keeping with the transient nature of graffiti.  So, too, the energizing art within the Andrew Freedman Home is transient.  Therefore, I encourage you not only to see the Whitney Biennial, which closes on May 27, 2012 but also This Side of Paradise, which will close on  June 5, 2012.


  1. Interesting essay, Tyko. Thanks for helping me see something so far away. I especially liked the works by Cheryl Pope. It's also great to see Linda making such an interesting and beautiful intallation.

  2. Thanks Tyko, have not had the time yet to see any of these ( seeing the Whitney has not always been a must lately) but your reporting reminded me it would be worthwhile.