Sunday, March 8, 2009

Art in my neighborhood!

Sometimes it is difficult to find art in the Manhattan streets you walk every day. In the six block radius that I traverse in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, mostly it is commerce that rules: Barnes & Noble, Food Emporium, the Gap, Pottery Barn, Ugg, Loew's movie theater, restaurants and other businesses. No galleries line the boulevards here. On certain days, though, reflections in apartment building windows can be visually arresting and five people will walk by all wearing red.

But usually the trek around the area generates the mundane: groceries and sundries. So there I was walking on Columbus Avenue between 67th and 68th Streets and what do I see? An installation of video art in the window of the former Reebok store, which has been empty for about a year. Whoa! Art on Columbus Avenue. Given so many empty storefronts nearby--Circuit City on Broadway gone, Cafe Mozart on West 70th Street gone, among others--video art seems an innovative way to keep the spaces vibrant through the recession and the ailing real estate market. The attention might also help lease the property.

Ellen Scott, spokesperson for, which put together the exhibition, says she hopes the Columbus Avenue location will bring more attention to the project. "We think the current economic conditions will spur more people to seek creative solutions [to their spaces]," she writes in an email. "Smartspaces is just starting up--we're planning to produce six to eight spaces in 2009, and scale much larger once we raise enough resources." Their inaugural venue is 266 West 37th Street.

All they need for publicity at Columbus Avenue is a local or national reporter from ABCNEWS, located across the street, to notice and, voila, mainstream media interest. But on Sunday, most passersby with cell phones in hand, shopping bags or baby carriages, hardly registered the flickering images in the window showing seven different video artists' work projected on an extremely thin screen, provided by openPLAYER. Had anyone stopped, they could have texted comments that would have been scrawled across the top.

Although I received some quizzical looks from pedestrians, I stood there and watched the half hour's worth of videos. It was worth it.
  • There was Ana Prvacki's "goose step" dance between a rather aggressive goose and a woman in a purple dress "tangoing."

  • Francisca Caporali (Brazil) and Mary Jeys (USA) offer animated explosions superimposed on different real locations in New York City.

  • Three "Forget Me Not" videos by Trine Nedreaas present individuals vying for attention: a woman sword swallower, a guy breaking concrete slabs with his head and a man eating a plate filled with sausages.

  • Venetian blinds opened and closed to reveal a changing urban landscape in "Cegueira" by Jessica Mein. Another by Mein, "White Shadow" has a figure almost fighting its shadow with a shovel.

  • "Delicatesse" by Triny Prada shows a hand cutting a small sliver from a seed pod in what appears to be a rain forest, seemingly reminding of our continual exploitation of natural resources to sate our needs.

  • "Mounted Horse Men," by Christy Gast, was most intriguing to me. She spliced videos of a man explaining cave paintings, of a painted pueblo settlement with the message "Jesus is the answer," of a guy fixing the stones on his house, of a donkey and other caves. All I could think was how someone in a thousand years was going to find meaning in our current cave paintings: YouTube videos and these video art works.

The Columbus Avenue opening, the press material says, was meant to coincide with other art fairs going on in New York City in early March, such as the Armory, Fountain and Scope exhibitions. But frankly, after recovering from a stomach bug, I wasn't feeling well enough to go too far from home. And given this economy, I wasn't about to buy any art at these art shows, either.

So thank you,, for bringing art into my corner of the world.

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