Friday, September 30, 2016

Searching for New York: Something Possible Everywhere

There is always a feeling that something has passed in New York.  Our cultural relics disappear.  The Cotton Club and CBGB’s close their doors with little fanfare.  Our favorite community gardens are bulldozed. Warehouses are padlocked.  And new kids find new walls to spray paint, in between fences and cracks in the sidewalk.  New stories keep on taking shape here, mixing with the old.

At least, I was thinking this walking along the Gowanus Canal along Sackett Street the other day, with condos arising along one of the most chemical infested waterways in the country – full of E.coli bacteria, among other delights, the pollution of old mixing with the new.  Countless, stories take place in such a milieu. I can imagine David Wojnarowicz working here, along his journeys around New York.  In the late 1970's, he lived just a few blocks away on Court Street. I'm sure he dropped by. 
But he did not create much art there.  

His art found inspiration along the decaying piers of the Hudson on the West Side of Manhattan. 

Riding around last night after my first chapter meeting as chapter chair at City Tech, I stopped by a show by  Wojnarowicz  and a group of artists who reclaimed space along these piers three decades ago.

 "Something Possible Everywhere: Pier 34, NYC 1983-4 is the first exhibition to revisit the extraordinary place and time when David Wojnarowicz and his friends and colleagues, Jane Bauman, Mike Bidlo, Keith Davis, Steve Doughton, John Fekner, David Finn, Jean Foos, Luis Frangella, Valeriy Gerlovin, Judy Glantzman, Alain Jacquet, Kim Jones, Rob Jones, Ruth Kligman, Stephen Lack, Liz-N-Val, Bill Mutter, Michael Ottersen, Rick Prol, Russell Sharon, Kiki Smith, Huck Snyder, Betty Tompkins, and Ruth Zwillinger among many others effectively seized a city-owned pier and filled it with art. Andreas Sterzing’s remarkable photographs, along with related images by Peter Hujar, Marisela La Grave, and Dirk Rowntree, document how these artists turned the Ward Line shipping terminal at the foot of Canal Street, into a series of makeshift art galleries and studios.

Accompanying Sterzing’s these photographs are over 75 paintings, drawings and sculptures, made by the many artists who worked on the pier. The presence of contemporaneous work in the exhibition makes tangible something of the physicality of the waterfront art and its larger aesthetic context."

New Yorkers love to be nostalgic about the city, its lost innocence, before its public spaces were colonized by neoliberal finance, insurance, real estate pressures commodifying space by the inch.  But there were never innocent times here. Questions about space for aesthetic production are always a struggle.  Yet, art is everywhere, with shows still popping up in the most unlikely places, the streets teeming with ideas and images.

Finishing the show, I rode up to 26th street to sing along with some friends at Sid Gold’s Request room, a piano bar where we put in requests for tunes we all sing along to.  Everyone is a star here.  Here, screaming queens meet kitsch, as we all sing the blues, ache out loud, long for something, grieve our dying planet, and remember we gotta have faith.  George Michael and Katy Perry mix well with George Gershwin and David Bowie here, with high culture intersecting with low.

My two favorite songs of the night were “Summertime” and “Life on Mars”. 

Summertime, and the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin' and the cotton is high
Oh, your daddy's rich and your ma is good-lookin'
So hush little baby, Don't you cry

Everyone is a star here, as the story of the city and its characters reinvents itself  anew and anew.