In the early days of the Covid 19 lockdown, most of us — not just here in Manhattan but around the globe — were spending close to 24 hours a day in our homes. It was during this time that photos began appearing on the Internet and Instagram depicting places like Times Square and other generally heavily-populated ‘tourist destinations’ in states of complete abandonment. It was as if civilization as we know it had ceased to exist, and our cities been left to the elements. The world was looking more apocalyptic by the day. The only thing missing were the zombies.
I thought of these images immediately when I got an email from Hashimoto Contemporary Gallery about their latest exhibition, Quarantine by artist Scott Listfield — who is known for his paintings featuring a lone exploratory astronaut lost in a landscape cluttered with pop culture icons, corporate logos and tongue-in-cheek science fiction references.
The gallery is walking distance from my home, so I made an appointment to see these enigmatic and compelling paintings in person. I was the only person in the gallery at the time of my visit, which made the experience even more powerful. To say that Scott Listfield’s work encourages imaginative extrapolation is an understatement.
As the Covid Life moves into its sixth month, my daily walks occasionally lead to the ‘discovery’ of not-so-new street art that’s two blocks from my apartment. Just being serious. Recently, I became acquainted with this monumental mural that takes up the entire side of a five-story apartment building, and features a sea of innumerable faceless Charlie Browns. The centermost Charlie stands atop a pitcher’s mound, gloved up and waiting for . . . what, exactly? 2020 to end? Aren’t we all.
The artist is the very famous Jerkface, whose work is recognizable for using well-known cartoon characters, but with a twist, relying on the 1st Amendment to avoid copyright claims.
The mural was completed in October of 2014 and, despite significant fading of the once vibrant yellow and green paint, it still looks pretty good after six years of exposure to the elements. Charlie and his faceless clones adorn the eastern exposure of Icon Realty-owned 402 E. 12th Street (just east of 1st Avenue) and overlook a street hockey court just adjacent to the Lower East Side Playground.
When the playground is open, you can snap a pic like this through the chainlink fence.
Purple Crocus’ on the High Line (All Photos By Gail)
In the Covid Life, I’m fortunate to be able to work from home, be in good health, have enough food, cable TV, and everything needed to make the lock-down more comfortable. I really can’t complain. I can get by for a few months without going shopping, eating in my favorite restaurant, or seeing a movie in the theater. The one thing I do get a bit wistful about is not being able to fully enjoy the beauty of Spring.
In an email I received from them this morning, the Museum of Modern Art was quick to remind me that, “Five hundred tulips are blooming in the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden right now, and no one is there to enjoy them.” Thanks for the reminder! Spring, the season of renewal, is happening all around us while we are being advised to stay inside. It kills me. In a normal year, I would have at the very least attended Sakura Matsuri, the Cherry Blossom Festival hosted by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden — which is such a terrific way to usher in the season. Even the NYBG’s Orchid Show closed prematurely. Beauty is still out there, so I preserve it on my walks. If you’re struggling with Cabin Fever, please enjoy a little bit of spring in this week’s edition of my East Village Life.
Tompkins Square Park is the closest park to my home; being located between Avenues A and B, and between East 7th and East 9th Streets. There have been a few outstanding flowering cherry trees there this spring. Check them out!
As much as I wish we could have trees that look like this year-round, they surely would not be appreciated if their beauty was not so ephemeral.
Here’s a closer look at that same tree. When I checked the Instagram accounts of my neighbors on this particular afternoon, everyone was posting their own photos of . . . that same tree. It was just too perfect.
Different tree, same park.
These were across the street from my apartment, on 14th Street outside Stuyvesant Town. I love the side-by-side contrast of the trees against the blue sky, and then the red brick building.
I took this photo very late in the afternoon, which is apparent by the light, or lack thereof. This tree enjoys its life inside one of the East Village’s community gardens that add so much value to this neighborhood.
When I posted this photo on Instagram it got twice the usual number of likes. I think that has something to do with the visual appeal of the white flowering tree next to the white building. This is First Avenue just south of 14th Street.
A cool thing about Cherry Blossoms is that you don’t have to get the entire tree to capture a great photo; in fact, a small cluster of flowers, or even a single bloom, can convey so much more about the beauty of spring. This photo was taken on the High Line in early March, one week before lock-down.
Also, the pink color is like a magnet, attracting me to the tree.
Image from Ellen von Unwerth’s Devotion! 30 Years of Photographing Women (All Photos By Gail)
If you live in the tri-state area and are on Instagram or FaceBook for even a few minutes a day, there is very little chance that you have not at least heard the name Fotografiska. Viral marketing ads for the NYC branch of this museum dedicated to modern photography were plastered all over social media for months prior to its opening to the public on December 14th, 2019. The cryptic ads featured dark, purple-shadowed images of the seven-story Gothic structure (built in 1892) housing the museum, which made it seem very mysterious and alluring. Everyone wanted to know: What the Hell is Fotografiska? Some people still can’t figure it out.
I finally had a chance to visit Fotografiska on March 5th, when I was invited to attend the opening reception for an exhibit by Julie Blackmon entitled Fever Dreams. One week after my visit, Fotografiska was forced to temporarily close its doors in compliance with New York State’s shelter-in-place order in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Image By Ellen von Unwerth Inside an Elevator at Fotografiska
My original plan had been to post a review of the Julie Blackmon exhibit in mid-March, to coincided with the celebration of National Women’s Month. But like so many of us on the planet, my life is completely different now than it was three or four weeks ago, so that did not happen. An up-side of being stuck in the house without the ability to visit an art gallery, or museum or cultural institution of any kind is that I get to bring you my take on Art in the Time of Covid right here on The Gig. Even though you cannot currently visit these exhibits in person, you can ‘Live Through Me’ and enjoy the photos vicariously. I hope this post will give you a sweet taste of what’s inside Fotografiska that will get you excited to check out the place once it reopens. Better late than never.
This was my first ‘exposure,’ so to speak, to Julie Blackmon’s work, but I immediately fell in love with her hyper-realist style. Fever Dreams is a collection of images that brim with fantasy and subtle satire, capturing a delicate balance between the darkness and charm of contemporary American life. It’s not unusual for a gallery to stage an exhibit in dim lighting, but this one is designed to be viewed almost completely in the dark, save for a bit of light bleeding in from an adjacent gallery, and dedicated spotlights focused on each work. While the lack of lighting presented a challenge in capturing decent images of the photos, it definitely set an important mood, which enhanced the viewing experience.
Adding to the surreal vibe of Fever Dreams was the wall-to-wall astroturf covering the gallery floors, which included this singular artificial Dandelion Puff. You will understand in a minute why it was helpful to feel like you were standing in someone’s backyard.
The playfully artful and chaotic nature present in the photographs of Julie Blackmon (b. 1966) are drawn from the everyday people and places that have shaped the artist’s life. These are the familiar and ordinary scenes of Blackmon’s daily routine in her hometown of Springfield, Missouri, which she describes as “the generic American town” in the middle of the United States.
Her scenes are often centered around children on their own in backyards, garages and neighborhoods where the absence of adults alludes to a looming potential for danger. Her photographs, otherwise innocuous domestic tableaux, are woven with fantasy and subtle satire that reflect a delicate balance between the darkness and charm of contemporary American life in suburbia.
One my favorite photos in the collection is this scene of children watching a screening of The Sound Of Music in a backyard. To me, it has an almost post-apocalyptic feel. Blackmon carefully sets her scenes, and like film and theater directors, she is in pursuit of unscripted moments that provoke, disturb, and challenged the viewer. Some of the images reference paintings by Dutch Masters, French impressionist, and modernists such as Edward Hopper and Balthus, but they are updated with a satirical, penetrating eye and Blackmon’s belief that artful fiction can capture the truth more memorably than the truth itself.
Speaking of her work, Blackmon explains, “I suppose I could make a work where everything’s just perfect, where the sun is shining and mom is lying out in the grass and everything’s happening perfectly and the kids are happy . . . but that wouldn’t interest me — and it wouldn’t be truthful. My aim is to create a more nuanced, subtly humorous and satirical portrait of the way we live today.”
Fever Dreams presents a selection of photographs from Blackmon’sHomegrown series as well as more recent works. It’s a fantastic exhibit and I hope its tenure at Fotografiska can be extended so that more people get to see it.
With the short span of time this year between celebrating Thanksgiving and the arrival of Christmas, it’s easy to forget that it’s still technically fall in NYC. That said, by Black Friday afternoon, fall decor was in a losing battle with Christmas decorations that started appearing on the streets and in storefronts shortly after Halloween. Crazy.
I doubt that this lovely autumn leaf wreath is made from actual leaves (it’s likely silk or some other fabric), but dang if it didn’t make me stop in my tracks and appreciate the beauty of nature when I saw it adorning the face of a Brownstone in Chelsea. And what a nice sentiment as well: Peace. Here’s the full shot below. Breathtaking.
Spotted on 22nd Street Between 7th and 8th Avenues in Manhattan.
Even though it’s been up since June 4th, it was just last week that I finally had the chance to check out the latest amazingly colorful mural on display at the famous Houston Bowery Wall, which is entitled Believe, and is the work of Andrea von Bujdoss, aka Queen Andrea. Queen Andrea is a New York City-based artist who specializes in fine art, murals, typography, and graphic design. Believe serves as a celebration of the city’s cultural diversity and “vibrancy of urban life.”
For Believe, in which Queen Andrea used paints in super bright colors, the eponymous typography messaging is a focal point, along with the words Love More on the lower right corner at street level. The artist uses these encouraging messages about staying positive and believing in what inspires you the most and makes you love more!
Queen Andrea’s focus on typography as an artist is an evolution of her history as a female graffiti artist. She grew up near the Houston Bowery Wall in Soho, where she began painting graffiti and studying graphic design as a young teen. The mural is part of an ongoing partnership between Goldman Global Arts and Citi.
The Houston Bowery Mural Wall is located at the intersections of East Houston Street and Bowery on the Northwest Corner.