A new art show opening this week is just the sort of hopeful omen we need really, really need right now, just one week before this horror show of an election culminates in Donald Trump’s inauguration, when he’ll make history as the Free World’s very first Twitter Troll in Chief. Nasty Women is proof that, even though we can expect many, many more deeply ignorant, casually misogynist remarks (like the one that inspired this show) to drop like so many pigeon poos from the stratospheric heights of Trump Tower, there are an even greater number of people out there who are refusing to let this stuff slide.
This week, we continue with our series of longer pieces unraveling the histories of storied buildings.
In June 1931, with America’s working class still deep in the grip of the Great Depression, a handful of actors in New York City performed Art is a Weapon, a skit first adapted by the New York’s Workers’ Laboratory Theatre. It begins with a Capitalist, with a “silk topper and over-refined accent,” making his declaration about the limited uses of art. The workers respond by making the distinction between proletarian and bourgeois art; between art intended to amuse and enlighten the elite and art meant to liberate workers.
The last time I saw a bunch of RAE BK‘s work all in one place was in 2015, just after the street artist and Brooklyn-native had opened his guerrilla-style solo exhibition in Chinatown. But the show wasn’t held at a gallery, instead RAE’s site-specific installation was housed inside a dingy old basement, accessible only by way of an unmarked, totally unassuming rust-red metal door adjacent to a bustling produce market. Even then, I was so jaded that I couldn’t allow myself to believe that this was a real basement with real dirt and dust everywhere. But actually it wasn’t just a fancy pop-up rental space with a stage-grit makeover, nor was it an attempt by some developer to “activate” a particular corner before the building was torn down. As RAE told me, the basement was simply on loan from a recently-retired butcher with whom he had a “tentative relationship,” and the show, called Trunk Work, was one of those rare art happenings that was both real and strange.
Whenever someone compares Brooklyn to Oakland, an angel loses its wings, and is sent plunging straight down to hell where the sexless being is reborn as an enormous phallus– imagine, like, a hedge fund manager or, in some cases, a real-estate developer.
That’s because the observation usually has to do with the proximity of a relatively much more prosperous place like Manhattan or San Fransisco (actually those are mostly just super fancy places no matter how you slice it) and based on dumb facts like that you can take a train between the two (the BART, the MTA respectively). Oh, and there’s also that whole gentrification thing– like parts of Brooklyn, Oakland has been declared fabulously “up-and-coming” (barf).
The truth is that, aside from stupid comparisons like these–usually found in real-estate ads, or grunted between high-five’ing bros–Oakland and our beloved borough actually do have some real stuff in common.
No matter how much you love your favorite DIY venue, there’s no sense in getting too attached– as anyone who’s been in the game for a while will tell you. But having lost seemingly countless art caverns and show spaces in the last year, we’ve reached a certain moment where posi vibes and healthy acceptance of the city’s natural ebb and flow, suddenly feel less like rational bits of wisdom and more like things we say to make ourselves feel better because everything is terrible right now.
Whether by force of landlord, party police, or unnatural disaster, we’ve lost some of the greats– Palisades is gone (for good), Market Hotel (indefinitely, save for some vegan markets here and there) maybe too, and Secret Project Robot went away as well. Since the beginning, the duo behind the latter, Rachel Nelson and Erik Zajaceskowski, have vowed to return in one form or another, and now good things are finally happening. “Secret Project Robot just signed a new lease!!” they announced on social media last week. “the art zombie rises!!!”
Art Start Up!
Tuesday, December 27, 7 pm to 10 pm at Theater for the New City, RSVP by Email email@example.com to RSVP
This Tuesday, one of the last independent East Village art spaces still hangin’ on, Theater for the New City, will welcome a group of artists as well as an array community organizations to engage in a conversation about the East Village and Lower East Side arts scene. There’s a lot to survey: the current state of things, what’s missing, what improvements should be made to best suit the community the arts (hopefully) serve, and economic barriers that may be in place. That last one is sure to be a long conversation.
The results of the election have churned up a tsunami of cultural backlash aimed at the incoming Trump administration’s rhetoric of hatred and intolerance (or, in at least one case, in support of it). There’s a lot of doom and gloom right now– hate crimes are on the rise as our new political era continues to take shape with increasingly horrifying cabinet appointments, from a conspiracy theory-touting Islamophobe as Secretary of Defense to a Department of Energy head who once called for the agency’s abolishment– even so, artists and cultural figures have banded together to express their dismay.
Some, like the Instagram campaign and public protest #DearIvanka, have infused political action with artsy weirdness, while others have just continued making the art they always have, the only difference being that the injustices they’re concerned with– the patriarchy, white supremacy, xenophobia– have seen something of a comeback as some Americans are once again proud to wear their prejudices on their sleeves (or Twitter feeds).
On a chilly but pleasant afternoon, a group of people sat at tables in Soho art space Recess, poring over strips of film. One person scratches designs onto a strip, another adds metallic star-shaped stickers. Croatia-born artist Željka Blakšić, who also uses the name Gita Blak, has been conducting what she calls a “direct filmmaking workshop.” In it, 16mm film strips are directly altered through the use of collage, drawing, scratching, and other tactics. Each person’s customized film strip is individual, but soon they will all be assembled into one motley creation, fed into a projector, and screened for all its creators to behold.
Last Saturday, several groups of artists, scholars, entrepreneurs, writers, and more gathered in the basement of the New Museum for the second annual Open Score symposium, where they delved into topics like artificial intelligence, how memes relate to blackness, and ways the internet can create social infrastructures. The afternoon was co-presented by Rhizome, a contemporary arts organization centered on intersections of art and technology.
Tackling the topic of feminism is a monumental task for any art exhibition, let alone one that fits inside a downtown art space called White Box–which you already know, or maybe just guessed, is not all that enormous. Even if the curator had the MoMA to herself, a show like this would require some epic planning. And from the viewer’s perspective? Yeah right. Seeing everything in one go would be require an Odyssean attention span which, let’s be real, just doesn’t exist anymore.
So when curator Lara Pan was commissioned by the non-profit art space White Box to put together a show “about women,” she and her co-curator Ruben Natal-San Miguel came up with Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (on view through January 21), a 27-piece show that fits neatly within a realm of feminism she knows well. She may have felt compelled to whittle down the larger theme, but she managed to keep the feeling of an epic, history-sweeping, time-spanning, half-the-human-race, cross-culturally inclusive narrative. At the same time, the show defies what we’ve come to expect from women’s art exhibitions: those one-note, temporary deviations from the default (i.e. white men) that are plagued by tokenism, tiptoeing, stale themes, and work that’s about as revolutionary as a closet full of pantsuits.