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Weekend Art Openings: African Masks, Tiny Sculptures, and The Apocalypse

(image courtesy of Salon 94 Bowery)

Flash of the Spirit
Opening Friday, November 9 at Salon Bowery 94, 6 pm to 8 pm. On view through December 21.

Lyle Ashton Harris’s photos, on view at Salon 94 Bowery starting this Friday, contain much colorful, vivid imagery, but few human faces. Instead, the faces in the bodies he captures are covered by elaborate, striking masks sourced from a variety of places, including several African masks from his uncle’s collection. These images are actually self-portraits, but you might not know it. And that’s kind of the point: throughout history, people putting on masks has been equated with them transforming into someone (or something) else, whether that be an improved version of oneself or a way to avoid accountability. Harris has been making work dealing with queerness, Blackness, and the self in the context of diaspora for decades, and this is a chance to see what he’s up to now. Keep Reading »

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A ‘New Yonic Era’ and More Art This Week

(image via Cooler Gallery)

Surface Tension
Opening Tuesday, July 31 at Cooler Gallery, 7 pm to 9 pm. On view through August 12.

Some art has sweeping sociopolitical messages, while other art serves a primarily aesthetic purpose. Neither is better or worse: sometimes you want to be provoked into thinking deeply about the world around you and sometimes you just want to be dazzled by how cool something looks. The work of mixed media artist Senem Oezdogan (presented in partnership with Uprise Art) falls more into the latter category, consisting largely of “fiber-based geometric studies” inspired by architecture, shapes, and the textures of fabrics. They’re fairly simple pieces, featuring abstract shapes and rich splashes of color, and manage to convey an alluring calmness in their playful minimalism. Rather than fixating on what message an artwork might be trying to proclaim, Oezdogan’s work invites you to merely appreciate the visuals. If it makes you feel nice, you don’t need to question it. Keep Reading »

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‘Store Front’ Photographer Karla Murray Races Against Time to Document ‘Fun and Funky’ NYC

(Photo courtesy of James and Karla Murray)

Longtime East Village photographers James and Karla Murray installed a structure in Seward Park recreating the Lower East Side’s Cup and Saucer, which closed after more than 70 years in business. Now, they’ve set up a gallery show featuring photographs from their “Store Front” books just a few blocks away at The Storefront Project (70 Orchard Street). The exhibit, “Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York,” pays homage to the mom-and-pop shops of the Lower East Side and will remain open through August 12. Bedford + Bowery chatted with Karla Murray about her hopes and thoughts on the changing neighborhood. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

(Photo: Tara Yarlagadda)

BB_Q(1)

I hope the opening reception went well.

BB_A(1)We got a lot of love and support from our friends and store owners as well. The granddaughter of Moe Albanese [of] Albanese Meats & Poultry on Elizabeth [Street]. Really the last butcher in Nolita. A neon sign fabricator who created the sign for Trash & Vaudeville and refurbished the Russ & Daughter’s sign was in attendance as well.

(Photo: Tara Yarlagadda)

BB_Q(1)

Tell me about your hopes for the Orchard Street exhibit.

BB_A(1)The majority of the photos relate to the Lower East Side. You know, to relate back to the neighborhood that the gallery is in. We also have a smattering from our so-called other “favorite” ones, mostly departed stores like Zig Zag Records and the Ralph’s that you saw in the window. We included some others but concentrated on the Lower East Side because we wanted to continue our story. ‘Cuz certainly the Lower East Side has changed a lot with gentrification and different people moving in. Unfortunately, a lot of mom-and-pop stores have closed. Buildings have been knocked down—it’s not only the stores. They’ve destroyed a lot of old tenement buildings [that] have been replaced with newer developments. When that happens, what replaces them on the ground floor as far as retail [goes] is a massive space that usually doesn’t lend to a mom-and-pop store leasing it because it’s just too expensive.

(Photo: Tara Yarlagadda)

BB_Q(1)

Are you mainly trying to preserve the legacy of these buildings or do you think there is some hope for activists to see your work and get inspired?

BB_A(1)Oh, of course. The way we’ve always thought of it is a celebration of the businesses that are still around. We always photograph vibrant, lively businesses. That’s why we always put the address with the cross street because we want people to be able to go to the stores and shop at them. That’s really the key to their survival, [which] is that they need customers.

(Photo: Tara Yarlagadda)

BB_Q(1)

And how many businesses did you end up photographing as part of this project?

BB_A(1)It’s countless. Thousands of photos. There’s over 325 stores just in our first book. And we have three books on the subject. Too many to count and interviews with the store owners as well. It’s over twenty years now [that] we’ve been documenting these mom-and-pop stores.

BB_Q(1)

You [and James] have been East Village residents for how many years now?

BB_A(1)We’ve lived in the same apartment for 22 years now. So it’s been a long time. It’s changed a lot in the time that we’ve been there. To be honest: we wish we had photographed more. There’s many, many small businesses that we remember fondly, but frankly we didn’t ever take a photo of [them] because we didn’t think they would ever close. And then it was too late. It’s always been a race against time to document them because they seem to be closing almost on a daily basis. For the most part, if they don’t own the building they’re located in, with the cost of new real estate going up, the landlord will triple, quadruple [the rent]. One business, they increased the rent 15 times. I mean, no small business can absorb that kind of rent increase, so then they’re forced to close.

(Photo: Tara Yarlagadda)

BB_Q(1)

So how do you feel about new developments like the Target in the East Village? Do you feel that kind of bodes ill for the mom-and-pop businesses?

BB_A(1)We live on that street.That was all mom-and-pop stores. We documented them on film in the ‘90s. There was a pizzeria. There was a Permacut [Beauty Salon]. There was an old dive bar. Blarney Cove. There was a little bodega. There was a 99 cent [store]. There was a whole strip of store after store after store. Mom-and-pop places. They knocked all that down and built that development. I mean, you can go anywhere and shop in Target. You don’t have to be in New York City. That doesn’t make a neighborhood. To us, it’s the mom-and-pop stores that define a community. The very reason we moved to the East Village years ago [was] that we thought it was fun and funky and had a lot of cool and interesting shops. When those types of stores close, the fabric of the neighborhood suffers.

(Photo: Tara Yarlagadda)

James and Karla Murray will lead a walking tour from their Seward Park installation to the Orchard Street exhibit on Saturday, August 4th from 1-3 p.m. Check their Instagram and Facebook for further details coming soon.

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W.O.W. Project Shares Stories of Resilience in Chinatown Open Mic Night

(Photos: Tara Yarlagadda)

In a dull gray building on Chinatown’s historic Eldridge Street, attendees squeezed into a cramped elevator and made their way to the youth center and activist space Project Reach, where the Chinatown Storytelling Open Mic event was being hosted on this humid Thursday evening. Two of the event’s organizers, Diane Wong—a Cornell doctoral candidate and visiting scholar at NYU who writes on gentrification and race in Chinatowns—and Huiying B. Chan—an Open City Fellow with the Asian American Writers’ Workshop—served as emcees. They opened the night with a sober acknowledgment that “we are on stolen indigenous Lenape land” and asked the audience to silently reflect on what actions they could take to acknowledge their occupation of such a space. That gesture set the tone for last night’s open mic night, which was part of the series “Homeward Bound: Memories, Identity, and Resilience across the Chinese Diaspora.”

Organizers Wong, Chan and Mei Lum are all affiliated with the W.O.W. Project, which hosts the Homeward Bound series. Lum is a fifth-generation store owner of Wing on Wo & Co., which is a nearly century-old porcelain store and one of Chinatown’s oldest landmarks. The longstanding family business was on the brink of being sold in 2016, but out of those troubled times, Lum founded W.O.W. as a way to preserve Chinatown’s creative scene through art and activism, particularly in the wake of rapid gentrification. Wong, who interviewed Lum and her family as part of her dissertation research, has been involved with W.O.W. since its inception.

Eldridge Street in Chinatown

“I think it’s important to show that Chinatown is very much a thriving, inter-generational community. There is a dominant narrative that portrays the neighborhood as sort of obsolete and dying, and that really isn’t the case,” said Wong.

Other groups, such as the Chinatown Art Brigade, have also used art as a vehicle to mobilize around neighborhood gentrification, but W.O.W.’s focus on the diverse stories of the Chinese-American diaspora seemed to be a way not only to inform outsiders about issues facing the neighborhood, but also a way to fortify their own in the wake of rising xenophobia and to help community members of different generations in Chinatown better understand one another.

“I think it’s really important as people of color and a diaspora to share stories and connect across communities. Especially now with the political moment that we’re in,” said Lum.

Against a backdrop of youth-created art, “Resist Fascism” posters and sparkling Christmas lights, more than a dozen storytellers stepped up to the mic to deliver their stories in the form of spoken word, graphic art, photos and videos. Annie Tan, a teacher and organizer, kicked off the night with funny picture of a stern four-year old Tan in a firefighter costume—a presentation which quickly became more somber when she spoke of cultural trauma. “I cried all the time. I cried because I was a kid of immigrants in Chinatown.” But her story took an uplifting turn when she spoke of how she used her own experience to become an effective educator in a Chicago school with predominantly Hispanic population, such as teaching her pupils about how Jim Crow impacted Mexican-Americans. Although she recently moved back to Chinatown because she missed the tradition and language of her own diaspora community. “Now I get tamales AND milk tea AND pork buns!”

Organizer Mei Lum stands in front of a papercut art design by artist Emily Mock.

Writer Nancy Huang held up her book, from which she read the poem “Tooth Fairy,” which she recited with gusto, “Ma said ‘smile big/You’ll catch a boy.” She encouraged audience members to consider purchasing the book from vendors other than Amazon, given the recent strikes over the company’s poor working conditions. Married couple Rocky Chin and May Chen, stalwarts of the Chinatown activist community, recited oral histories of their respective stories, including Chin’s valiant but failed bid for City Council and Chen’s work with the Chinatown Garment Workers’ Union in the 1980s, which earned them hearty applause from the audience. Chin also posed his frustration with the simple question,“Where are you from?” which could be read as a coded way to question the American identity of people of color.

Members from other diaspora communities were also welcomed into the fold to share their stories. Mahfuzul Islam of Jhal NYC—a group linked to the Bangladeshi community in Queens that sells T-shirts emblazoned with fierce tiger designs—spoke about his work in bringing older Bengali women or “aunties” into spaces outside of their immediate diaspora community—like bowling alleys—that they might shy away from due to language constraints and other cultural barriers.

Later, first-generation immigrant, writer and translator Lux Chen reckoned with her graduate program’s inability to offer adequate support for her depression and evoked The Great Gatsby in her expectations clashing with the harsh reality of New York’s literary scene. Artist Clara Lu delighted the audience through her exploration of her family and pride in her culture vis-à-vis Lu’s illustrations of her late grandmother’s dishes like braised pork and bean sprouts. Midway through her presentation, Lu exclaimed, “Oh, I forgot to speak Shanghainese!” Lu went on to recite dishes in both English and the Shanghai dialect. And last but not least, Emily Mock played a poignant animated video of paper cut artwork she created depicting an elderly woman preparing vegetables for a soup in her Chinatown apartment.

Celebrating the W.O.W Project’s second anniversary was so much fun so glad to have seen some familiar faces and share my 古筝 (guzheng) performance with y’all. (Thinking abt making more livestreams or maybe a whole separate account for that???) The @wingonwoandco fundraiser is still going on! Help us reach $15K to continue supporting this “women-led iniative in sustaining ownership over Chinatown ‘s future by growing and protecting Chinatown ‘s culture through arts and activism.” Your donations will fund the continuation of public programing, the 店面 Residency @emiemmy and I were part of this past year, the wonderful fellow of Resist, Recycle, Regenerate, internships, and other wonderful programs that grow out of W.O.W. Check out the link in @wingonwoandco ‘s bio for their campaign and see some of the rewards for your donations Also these prints are up for sale now, DM me if you’d like to purchase . . . . #wingonwoandco #mottstreet #chinatown #fundraiser #illustrations #anniversary #prints #catprint #handdrawn #sketch #drawing #instaartist #instaart #dailysketch #sketchoftheday #dailydrawing #clayruhlettering #sketchoftheday #foodillustrations #homedeco #homeprints #artprints #clayruhlettering #艺术 #画画 #艺术品 #唐人街 #纽约 #oneofthem

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W.O.W. will be hosting an exhibit in the fall or winter, so stay tuned and check out their website for future updates or to donate to their fundraising campaign, which aims to raise $15,000 by the end of July.

Performers at the Open Mic Night pose for a group photo.

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Popular Skate Spot at Columbus Park in Limbo Due to Renovation

An empty recreational facility at Columbus Park (Photos: Tara Yarlagadda)

At the intersection of Baxter and Worth Streets, adjacent Columbus Park’s basketball courts, some olive-green workout equipment and a fire-engine red jungle gym sit unused. Plastic sheets cover the workout equipment and the jungle gym lays barren, practically begging buff dudes in muscle tees to do some pull-ups. A sign on the cordoned-off fence surrounding the site reads “Work in Progress.” But during a recent visit there were no workers or construction materials in sight.

This closure also comes as the latest offense for frequent skateboarders of the park who feared “grave consequences” when a fence was erected between the fitness units and an adjacent basketball court earlier this summer, thus limiting skaters’ ability to crisscross the park. Previously, skateboarders would skate up or down a two block ledge between the fitness area and the basketball courts, making for some gnarly video footage. Since the late 1990s, Columbus Park been known as a sweet unauthorized spot for skaters to hang without getting booted by the Parks Department. Though that may all change post-renovation.

An empty recreational facility at Columbus Park (Photos: Tara Yarlagadda)

The outdoor recreational facility has been closed down as part of a multi-site renovation effort, which also includes Chelsea Playground, in Staten Island, and the handball courts at Booker T. Washington Playground, on the Upper West Side. Unfortunately, due to unexpected conditions found at Columbus Park, the reconstruction project has been delayed and a revised layout issued to handle problems with measuring the site.

Barring any further impediments, the Columbus Park fitness units will be re-opened at the end of the summer, but it’s a bummer for Lower East Side skateboarders who often frequent the park. According to Quartersnacks.com, local skateboarding legend Robert “Bobby” Puleo put the spot on the map when he nailed a manual going down a kinked ledge at a much-more downtrodden Columbus Park circa 2000. Its hallowed reputation only grew in the mid-late 2000s. If you were any sort of halfway decent New York skater, you were expected to pay your respects with a session at Columbus Park rail.

In any case, for the time being, may we recommend Slappy Sundays at Boca LES instead?

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Female Candidates, Global Wealth Inequality, and More Exhibitions Open This Week

art by Laurel Garcia Colvin (image via Robert Mann Gallery / Facebook)

In Her Hands
Opening Thursday, June 14 at Robert Mann Gallery, 6 pm to 8 pm. On view through August 17.

It seems more women than ever are running for office, from the two Staceys who recently faced off for Georgia governor to local Congressional challenger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Latina from the Bronx whose recent campaign ad gathered buzz for being legitimately compelling. Robert Mann Gallery’s newest group exhibition, curated by Orly Cogan and Julie Peppito, showcases a series of portraits of women who are running in the 2018 elections. Adding an additional layer of femininity to the whole affair is the fact that these portraits are made predominantly using craft methods and materials, utilizing a medium historically tied with women and domesticity (and often downplayed in importance due to both of these associations). You’ll see anyone from big-name candidates to unfamiliar face immortalized through quilting, embroidery, and more. Keep Reading »

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A Cartoonist Charged With Obscenity and More Art This Week

(flyer via Checks Cashed / Facebook)

Neu Show
Opening Thursday, April 26 at The Living Gallery, 7 pm to 11 pm. One night only.

Sometimes you want to go to a Chelsea gallery to silently stare at art alongside a bunch of people who probably have more money than you, and sometimes you want to stay in Bushwick and see some art while a local trans punk band plays. You can do the latter on Thursday at The Living Gallery (which just celebrated its sixth anniversary) at Neu Show, a showcase of nine local underground photographers, painters, experimental mixed-media artists, graphic artists, and more, with live tunes from local punk outfit Library and tracks from DJ Drew Redmond to keep the mood nice and energized. There is a $5 cover at the door, but the show is a mere one night only, and these artists need to be supported somehow. Keep Reading »

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Art This Week: Immigrant-Made Paper Sculptures, The Opioid Trail + More

(image via Superchief Gallery NY / Facebook)

Ron Wimberly
Opening Thursday, October 5 at Superchief Gallery NY, 7 pm to midnight. On view through October 26.

Ronald Wimberly is not only a visual artist creating compelling and colorful images, but has also designed and completed narrative illustrations for multiple graphic novels and companies like Nike and Marvel. He’s even drawn a comic combining Brooklyn gentrification and vampires. This week, you won’t just find Wimberly’s work within the pages of comics like Prince of Cats and Black History In Its Own Words, but on view in a solo show at Ridgewood’s Superchief Gallery. There, you can see unique renditions of sports players, rappers, bubblegum-colored cartoon creations, and surely much more, as Wimberly has a lot of work out there. Keep Reading »

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Not A Real Body Farm, Sad & Asian Creations, and More Art Shows

(flyer via Paradice Palase)

Body Farm
Opening Thursday, August 24 at Paradice Palase, 4 pm to 9 pm. One night only.

Ok, to ease your nerves (or disappoint you), this isn’t an exhibition of an actual body farm. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, body farms are decomposition research facilities. So then, what is this Body Farm? It’s a one-night-only pop-up exhibition being put on by Paradice Palase, a Brooklyn space that “believes in a community-supported gallery model and getting artists paid for their efforts.” TBH, really all you have to say is that this is an organization that cares about paying artists and that would make their show worth going to. Plus, there seems to be a neon pineapple sign involved, which sounds fun. Keep Reading »

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Bowery Tenants Hit the Streets Again to Protest Dr. Jay’s Owner Joseph Betesh

(Wah Lee before she threw the poster on the ground and stomped on it. Photo: Shannon Barbour)

Tenants of 83 and 85 Bowery poured into the streets of Chinatown yesterday afternoon to protest their landlord Joseph Betesh, again, who they say is a “slumlord” who has been harassing and trying to evict his tenants.

Betesh, owner of Dr. Jay’s, bought 83 and 85 Bowery along with other buildings in 2013 for $62 million; according to a press release, tenants believe he has maintained that the building isn’t rent stabilized. Both parties have gone back and forth in court. In May of last year, Betesh’s lawyers agreed to work toward a settlement wherein Betesh would make repairs, relocate residents, and return them to their refurbished apartments with 99-year leases. However, tenants ultimately rejected the deal because Betesh would not agree that the units were rent-stabilized, according to one of the residents.

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Diner Death Notice: Cup & Saucer Goes Dark

Credit: Shanna Ravindra, New York Magazine.

Last week we reported that LES/Chinatown stalwart Cup & Saucer — one of the last of the New York luncheonette old guard — is closing after more than three quarters of a century, thanks to a rent hike on its Canal Street location.

Although Bowery Boogie reported that today would be Cup & Saucer’s last day of operation, it already, as of this morning, appears to be closed forever. Phone calls to Cup & Saucer are going unanswered, and sources tell us the diner is dark.

People paid their respects on Instagram.

Credit: ____genna____ (Instagram)

Credit: OrchardStreetRunners (Instagram).

Credit: PraiseShadows (Instagram).

The owners told the New York Times that their rent was set to nearly double and that they may look for another space.

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LES Stalwart Cup & Saucer to Shutter After 75 Years

Shanna Ravindra for New York Magazine.

Cup & Saucer, a throwback luncheonette that has occupied the same quiet spot on Canal Street for more than 75 years, is likely closing, Bedford + Bowery has learned. The small but much-loved diner — whose iconic Coca-Cola sign and faded retro aesthetic hearken to an older era — is a staple of the Lower East Side/Chinatown neighborhood.

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