Soho Versus Harlem: Art or Real Life?

Finally an interesting installation in New York City. Phew! I was thinking that sculpture was dead. Where are the Ann Hamilton’s and Robert Gober’s of this decade?  Black Acid Co-op at Deitch Projects in New York is one of the best shows that I’ve seen in New York in a while.

It is completely self indulgent, visually, olfactorily, acoustically, physically. They just needed to offer some sour candy to hit all the senses.

It’s obviously not for everyone, as most people with whom I’ve spoken really don’t like it. I went with a friend who is a private dealer and collector and he thought that it was a big waste of time. But his taste is generally more traditional in the forms of art he likes—painting, prints, photos, sculptures. If there isn’t something to buy, he ain’t interested.

Speaking with the gallery attendant, it was interesting to hearing the details surrounding the artwork creation.

Apparently there are 14 rooms in total. The work started off with about three RV mobile homes which were set aflame upstate. They were trucked down, and create much of the infrastructure for the many rooms. Because of the recession, many professionals donated their time to the piece, including architects, designers and artists, 10 full time staff working for a month, and about 40 volunteers.

The only indication of how the Deitch Projects space normally looks is when peering through the scrim in the hippy commune, and seeing the bits of lights piercing the exoskeletal structure. (See video, part 2.)

As typical with a down economy, the art scene moves from product-based work, to more experiential art. Of course much of what Jeffrey Deitch shows can be said to be experiential. I’m hoping that we will find this to be the case more often in the next few years, while collectors take a break and reassess. I always think about Rirkrit Tiravanja when I see these types of shows, those that don’t seem to be selling anything.  I have unfortunately never attending one of his openings (shame on me) but I’ve heard him speak and worked with him a couple of times years ago. I don’t know what his commodity is, per se, but think that the work is about social intercourse.

Some of my favorite parts of the show, is the burned out bathroom with glimpses of the retro laminate on the walls, pink sink and tub, with drop ceiling. I also love the t-shirts in the back of the Chinese Herb room, with airbrushed illustration of self-fisting woman, bestiality, and lesbian sex done is bright florescent colors in a florescent lit room.

So what the hell is it all about. Darned if I know. It is definitely about creating a challenging, yet safe, visceral experience. It actually seemed incredibly familiar to me. I have been looking at townhouses in Harlem with my partner for the past year. And it is amazing how similar the experience is.

We have walked into rotten shells of homes, which were built at the turn of the century as luxury homes. Generally 4-5 floors, at times with rain dripping all the way to the ground floor through rotten joists. In every room, you get bits and pieces of what used to be the original home, and more often, you get to see the house as it was broken up more recently into single room occupancy (SRO). Generally during th SRO period, the home was heavily used, worn and abused.

Harlem Townhouse:Burned Out Bathroom

Harlem Townhouse: Burned Out Bathroom

Harlem Townhouse: Burned Out Kitchen

Harlem Townhouse: Burned Out Kitchen

Juxtaposing the Harlem townhouse pix with the installation photos of Black Acid Co-op, it is quite amazing the lengths that Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe went to get an authentic feel to their work.

As for the social commentary, its hidden in the layers upon layers of crap strewn about. There is one room that looks like it could be a crack den. At the end of video documentation part 1, you leave the crack den room, it becomes apparent that the color and execution makes it look like abstracted American flag.

1 Comment

    HarlemGal, I’m not a big fan of the WSJ per se, though I do read it every day. I think the peattrn you are pointing out is an outgrowth of the paper’s new Greater New York section, which has led to a lot more local reporting than they ever had in the past.So Murdoch’s influence exists in the sense that he is keen on having the Journal compete with the NY Times in the local NYC market, and the new section is a vehicle for that. I will say that the conservative bent of both Murdoch and the existing WSJ editorial board have not, as far as I can tell, appeared outside the editorial pages of the paper (which I try to avoid).Finally, this leads me to a comparison with the NY Times. I’m not sure it’s an editorial slant per se, so much as it is a function of the niches carved out by beat reporters and a measure of institutional blindness but I have definitely noticed that NYT reports on Harlem, when they occur, tend to fall into one of two categories:1. A human-interest culture article, in which the reporter steps into the role of anthropologist to relay fascinating tidbits or tales of human hardship, typically with great affection.2. A report that presents evidence of change, such as gentrification, in an extremely tense and politicized frame. Such an article will typically rely heavily on quotes from entrenched activist groups.Again, I wouldn’t call this liberal or anything of the sort it’s more a matter of myopia.I think it is interesting, though perhaps it shouldn’t be too surprising, that the WSJ, with its new section and new local beat reporters, is better able to both perceive and report on the rapidly changing landscape in Harlem than the relatively calcified NYT.I don’t know if I would call that a love affair but it’s a hopeful trend for both Harlem and the WSJ.

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