Woody Allen wannabes mingled with finance types in cowboy boots and a few fellas who looked like they could be Keith Richards’s little brothers last night at at the opening of “All | Together | Different,” an exhibition celebrating nearly 100 artists working on the Lower East Side.
“I recognize a lot of faces here from the East Village in the ’80s,” said John Lloyd, a painter who was not featured in the show. “It’s good to see so many old farts still looking quirky and funky. It’s a wonderful reminder of what was going on. We took it for granted and it disappeared, but it’s good to see that everyone is still around.” The camaraderie was palpable, like a high school reunion with just as much booze and half the awkwardness.
That was exactly what the show at Manny Cantor Center‘s Educational Alliance Art School hoped to celebrate: those who withstood the gentrification of the ’90s and kept the Lower East Side art community alive. Rabbi Joanna Samuels, executive director of the Manny Cantor Center, proclaimed, “This show affirms what we know to be true: that the arts are thriving here on the Lower East Side and in the East Village.” The tattooed, pierced, and dyed crowd cheered.
Tom Finkelpearl, commissioner for the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and the guest of honor, talked up the city’s increased funding of art in public schools, as well as the 1,500 units of artist housing promised in De Blasio’s State of the City address. “But I’m really mostly here to thank the artists,” Finkelpearl said. “In the arts, none of it makes any difference unless the artists are there making art…. The city isn’t vibrant without the artists.”
“All | Together | Different” was dominated by paintings, photographs, prints, and drawings, but also included videos, installations, and mixed media. Artist and assistant curator Yona Verwer collaborated with Cynthia Beth Rubin to create “History, Heritage, and the Lower East Side.” The long, narrow canvas consists of layers of various Lower East Side building facades overlaid with zodiac signs, and its catalogue description lists the media as “digital print, paint, and augmented reality on canvas.” To demonstrate the augmented reality, Rubin scanned the piece with an iPad, triggering videos or photos of the source material embedded in the painting. As the demonstration drew a crowd, Rubin confessed that she believed this would be the start of a long collaboration with Verwer.
This cooperative spirit is precisely what Linda Griggs loved about curating the show. “It means so much to me to bring all these people together,” she said. “Erik Foss [and] Yuri Masnyj were incredibly generous about recommending other artists. I have a profound respect for them, because they aren’t threatened.”
The exhibition not only honors the artists who stayed, it also celebrates the Lower East Side’s community institutions, as it marks the re-opening of the Educational Alliance Art School.
“It’s thrilling to see the Educational Alliance as the revitalized art center it once was,” said Jeff Wengrofsky, another artist and attendee. Wengrofsky’s family has lived in the neighborhood for 100 years, and his father worked for the Educational Alliance in the 1970s, so the show meant a lot to him. And, judging by the very full house, he’s not the only one who cares about keeping art alive in the Lower East Side.