Thursday, December 18, 2008

Exhibition Essay

EVICTIONS: Art and the Politics of Urban Renewal considers what it means to be "evicted." Eviction - as a type of forced, large scale displacement or ejection - is only one side effect of gentrification. An eviction implies not only involuntary removal and displacement but also a type of social cleansing. To be evicted is to be forced out but also to be refurbished, made anew, repackaged. The show makes the case that people are not the only things that can be evicted. Cultural symbols such as graffiti can be evicted from public sight as well, particularly as cities strive to manufacture a clean, pristine, gentrified image. The artists in the show are not united by a single medium but by their critical reflections on the impact that evictions have on the urban fabric. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Gordon Matta-Clark, Window Blowout (1976)

Window Blow-Out (1976)  shows a derelict housing project in the Bronx with its windows bursted out.  But what appears to be a random act of urban vandalism was actually a performance piece by Matta-Clark himself. In the performance, the artist shot at the windows of the empty building with a BB gun. The piece suggests that urban decay and neglect are manmade situations that can be avoided. 

Monday, December 15, 2008

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jimmy Best... (1981)

Jean-Michel Basquiat's work is raw and energetic, blending hip-hop culture, spray paint, graffiti-styled writing, and the rugged streets of New York City. Jimmy Best...(1981) looks as though it belongs on the side of an abandoned building but in fact lives on the walls of a wealthy art collector. 

Anonymous, Hell, No ! (2007)

In December 2007, the New Museum opened a new home on the historic Bowery in Manhattan. At the time, the Museum celebrated its new location with a special sculpture by the artist Ugo Rodinone that read "Hell, Yes!" The accompanying "Hell, No!"stenciled at the bottom of a traffic light on the corner of Prince Street and Bowery suggests an antagonism to the Museum's presence and what it means for the neighborhood. The New Museum sits next door to a homeless shelter - the Bowery Mission.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Lady Pink, The Death of Graffiti (1982)

The Death of Graffiti (1982) shows two drastically different New York City subway cars moving through what could be a gentrifying neighborhood. The most noticeable feature of the work is that one subway car is covered in graffiti, and it rhymes with the naked woman standing on top of a pile of spray paint cans. The second train has been completely cleansed, and the forward motion of the train, indicated by the woman pointing in its direction, suggests gentrification of the city.  

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Quality Meats for the Public (1982)

Just as with Futura 2000 and Lady Pink, so too did Jean-Michel Basquiat bring the energy of the street inside the art gallery. Basquiat's Quality Meats for the Public (1982) shows a black male and his dog in a field of pastel teals and pinks and vibrant oranges and reds. While the colors alone suggest a relationship between the street and the gallery, the work suggests that the medium of painting is a way of giving the public what it wants, whatever fetish that may be. The "quality meat" is a fetishized commodity - whether the work of art or a luxury apartment. Thanks to the newfound illegality of graffiti, Basquiat's street art has been evicted from the public realm and heralded for private consumption in the gallery world.  

Futura 2000, The Red Egg (2008)

Futura 2000 is one of the leading graffiti and commercial artists still living. He came to fame for his colorful, vibrant graffiti on New York City subway cars in the 1980s. In The Red Egg (2008), the electric color palate of yellows, reds and oranges, as well as the doubly improvised and controlled form of the painting brings live, street energy inside the painterly field. What amounted to a citywide crusade against graffiti in New York - due to the city's desire to manufacture a pristine, controlled image - became a fetishization of street hipness by the art world. Take note of the successful careers of Futura 2000, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Harring, Lady Pink and other graffiti artists. 

Object Orange, Untitled (2007)

Object Orange, the artist project based out of Detroit, Michigan, continues Gordon Matta-Clark's legacy of artistic intervention with the built environment. Derelict buildings around Detroit are painted "Tigeriffic Orange" in order to highlight not only their abandon but also their presence. 

Gordon Matta-Clark, Splitting (1974)

Gordon Matta-Clark's iconic Splitting (1974) speaks to an era of decay not only in the built environment but in the social fabric as well. This house, literally split in half by the artist, suggests the extremes of being evicted. Seen by many feminist critics as a violent attack against the home environment and domesticity, the split might more compellingly describe the process of gentrification whereby entire communities are split in half and forced to evacuate. 

Santiago Sierra, Public Transported Between 2 Locations in Guatemala City (1999)

In Public Transported Between 2 Locations in Guatemala City (1999), Santiago Sierra asked attendees at an art opening for his work at a gallery in Mexico City to board an unmarked bus. The windows of the bus were completely covered, and the passengers could not see where they were headed. A hot 30-minute ride later, Sierra asked the gallerygoers to exit the bus. When they did, he left them there - right in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods of Guatemala City. 

If urban renewal, gentrification and eviction are about evicting the poor and working-class so that the wealthy can comfortably move in, Sierra's performance brings the rich back into contact with the poor - ostensibly before the neighborhood has been gentrified. He gives his wealthy, bourgeois audience a taste of their own medicine. 

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Anonymous, Hipster Tee (2008)

This anonymous stenciling on a sidewalk in the freshly gentrified neighborhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, reflects discontent toward upwardly mobile young professionals who are often the agents of gentrification. Borrowing the language of American Express ads, the piece is a wry disavowal of hipster fashions and their ultimate cost: gentrification.  

Friday, December 12, 2008

Erik J Sommer, American Tradition (2007)

Following Gordon Matta-Clark's line of urban ruin and decay, Erik Sommer's piece American Tradition (2007) stands as a metaphor for gentrification as an artificial way to produce social change. The abstraction is grounded by thin, incomplete strokes of red paint that fill in the decaying, pale canvas plane. The red paint, which feels freshly added, suggests a wound, and the surface of the canvas is the wound of a neglected neighborhood. 

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mierle Laderman Ukeles, The Social Mirror (1983)

Mierle Laderman Ukeles' piece The Social Mirror (1983) appeared as part of the grand finale of the first New York City Art Parade. The piece is a 20 cubic yard garbage collection truck, which is still used by the New York Department of Sanitation for special events and festivals, that is clad in hand-tempered glass mirrors with smoke Plexiglas mirror trim. The reflecting truck is a metaphor for the interralationship between "us" whose images get caught in the mirror and "those" who collect our garbage. 

Hans Haacke, Shapolsky et al. Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, A Real-Time Social System, as of May 1, 1971 (1971)

Hans Haacke's controversial piece Shapolsky et al. Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, A Real-Time Social System, as of May 1, 1971 (1971) produces an abstraction of the social relationships between the wealthy and the evicted.  Shapolsky, a wealthy New York land owner and landlord, happened to also be the owner of more slums than any other land owner in the city. The work thus illustrates the many ways in which the wealthy leech on the poor for the source of their money. The work was so controversial at the time that the Guggenheim Museum, where it was intended to debut, cancelled the show - the understated implication being that Shapolsky probably gave money to the Museum and did not want his name to be contaminated.  

Jenny Holzer, It Takes A While...(1988-89)

Jenny Holzer's It Takes A While...(1989) speaks directly, and in first-person, to the issue of gentrification, eviction and displacement. Holzer, who uses language and the codes of advertising to deliver her moralistic message, suggests that the process of gentrification implies mastering the ability to ignore social outcasts like the homeless. 

Krzysztof Wodiczko, Homeless Vehicle (1988-89)

Krzysztof Wodiczko's Homeless Vehicle (1988-89) allows the homeless to perform an act of resistance. Not only does the vehicle draw attention to the housing problem and the resulting homelessness that characterized New York in the 1980s, but it also doubles symbolically as a weapon. 

Allicette Torres, How Will We Feel...(2008)

How Will We Feel (2008), made of wood board and posted anonymously in various public locations in Harlem, is a reminder of the current gentrification of Harlem as well as a record of a current moment in history. The colors used in the piece - black, white and red - are three of the most common colors used by corporations and institutions such as Coca-Cola. The colors suggest the increasing corporatization of an historically black neighborhood. 

Allicette Torres, Harlem for Sale (2008)