Now You See It

For a while now, various people have been heralding the decline of New York as a place for struggling artists, courtesy of the rising cost of living, especially in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Struggling artists can’t make it here anymore. Having been privy to the frenzy of the real estate market, both as a renter and as a prospective home buyer, I can attest that living here requires deep pockets or several jobs or creative economizing. When a former student sent me an invite to an art show which had accepted her work, therefore, I was eager to see what is happening in the least rarified circles of New York art–pop-up shows for the newest kids on the block.

The exhibit’s theme was the New York subway and it was to be held for one evening at the premises of something called Outlaw Arts. I was intrigued by the Chinatown location since I tend to associate art shows with the now chi-chi environs of Chelsea and Williamsburg. In contrast, Outlaw Arts was in a narrow building next to one of my go-tos for dim sum.

On the way over, I was thinking that I’d have to hunt around for the entrance to the second story or ask someone to point me to the gallery. To my surprise, the sidewalk outside the building was already crowded with young artists and their supporters, including my student. Turned out that the exhibit was jam-packed with viewers and since the space lacked A/C and we were in a heat wave, it was a tad warm in there.

But we made our way up a narrow staircase and found this at the top:

CAM02297There were also two hosts who were collecting a nominal fee and stamping our hands as if we were at a club, which in a way we were. Inside, the 10×15 space was packed with guests.


while a jazz musician had set up in one corner,


right next to someone who was managing a table filled with wine and plastic glasses. (The beer was reserved for a later time in the evening, interestingly enough.)

In keeping with the name of the venue perhaps, some of the exhibits were MTA property that the artist had–well, let’s say “liberated.”

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Other pieces ranged from digital photos

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to 35mm film, which is what my student Jules Rico had entered

CAM02302Some of the artists were apparently quite well-known, as was evident by small groups of fans that surrounded them, but the crowd seemed happy to circulate and review all the work that had been presented. I thought my student’s pieces stood up well against the others’ and I was delighted to buy an original. (The curator offered to mail it to me, which was a relief because even though I had meant to buy something, I hadn’t planned on such a large piece, which would be unwieldy to get home on a bicycle.)

Pop-up shows are an interesting tactic to connect artists and potential audiences in a city where space is at a premium and even established artists need to hustle. One hopes that the city will find more ways to support these citizens, not the least of which would be to create housing and working areas as well as exhibition venues where talent can continue to flourish. After all, with no offence to any other cities that are incubating great artists–New York is still where it’s at.

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