Occasionally after going to countless gallery openings or museum previews, I get a little sick of the New York art scene — the pretentiousness, the glut of Yale MFA students showing academic and alienating art and the quirky thick-rimmed glasses. Just in time for the September gallery openings, I’m going to list the things I love about art in New York in no particular order.
1 — The Opportunity to Be a George Condo Painting for a Night and Other Artistic Silliness
I probably have to start explaining why the main photograph is a classy picture of me posing in the New Museum’s bathrooms. A few months ago, the New Museum held a George Condo costume contest and I, with a friend, dressed up as Condo’s Ballerina from Kanye West’s Twisted Fantasy. Winning the contest wasn’t even the highlight of the evening (well, sort of winning because so few people actually showed up in costume that everyone was a winner). The ability to wander around the New Museum dressed in a tutu and a mask while freaking out fellow art goers and head curator Massimiliano Gioni made it all worthwhile.
In New York, there are many events such as the PopRally parties at MoMA (at which I have also embarrassed myself) to the Get Weird nights at the New Museum. Interacting with art in a new and fun way rather than looking through the exhibition comes as a welcome respite from serious art-viewing.
2 — Some of the Major Art and Cultural movements of the 20th C Developed Here
Not only did these countless art movements begin in New York but, their legacy is still felt on the streets. At the right moment, you can walk past Union Square, listening to The Velvet Underground and feel a connection with Warhol’s Factory.
Similarly when wandering down a tagged alley on White Street in TriBeCa, listen to Gray, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s band, and you can sense that you are in the same area where the Mudd Club used to rock the 1980s New Wave scene.
3 — Art Movements Are Always Being Born
While I often subscribe to Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s belief that the American Dream died a long time ago, it still seems to be going strong in the New York art world and has for generations.
While there are certainly some inheritors to artistic success nowadays, artists still have the opportunity to succeed based on their own merit like many in the past. Andy Warhol came from soot-ridden Pittsburgh to create an entire art movement and scene that continues to be copied to this day. Similarly, Keith Haring moved from nowhere Kutztown, Pennsylvania to become a dominant personality in the art of the 1980s.
4 — The Variety of Art Neighborhoods Are Incredible
From Bushwick to the Upper East Side, New York has so many art neighborhoods that have a completely different artistic atmosphere. Almost every single neighborhood in the city has some sort of art scene that is totally distinctive from what is possibly happening a few blocks up or down.
While I spend a good majority of my time looking at the Chelsea, Lower East Side and sometimes North Brooklyn galleries, it is always nice to take a vacation uptown to the Metropolitan Museum or even some of the more conservative blue-chip galleries on Madison Avenue if only to remind myself why my tastes are more at home further south.
5 — New York’s Old “Alternative” Spaces Are Still Going Strong
Studying Fashion Moda and the other alternative spaces from the 1970s and 1980s in New York, I loved the Do-It-Yourself quality of these spaces, built on the strength of artistic beliefs. I love that a few of these spaces are still around today. While many have disappeared, others such as ABC No Rio and Exit Art with unbelievably rich histories are open and accessible.
Created out of the radical The Real Estate Show of 1980, ABC No Rio still stands raw and punky on 156 Rivington Street, hosting performances and exhibitions.
6 — Finding Art Shows in Unexpected Places
One of my favorite things is when I come across an exhibition or an art piece in a random place in the city. From pop-up galleries in empty storefronts by No Longer Empty to Creative Time installations around the city, New York has countless locations that could be filled with art.
I volunteered at Cuchifritos, one of the most randomly placed art galleries in New York in the Essex Street Market in the Lower East Side. Shopping for cheese or get cussed out at Shopsin’s, a New Yorker can wander in to see a small art exhibition. Volunteering for Cuchifritos, I can confirm most people wander in thinking they are going to purchase “cuchifritos” not an Olek piece.
7 — Countless Opportunities to See Live Art
From Hunter Reynold’s Mummification performances to Marina Abramović’s aggravating The Artist Is Present performance at MoMA, New York has some of the best live art pieces and performances in the world. Where else can you sit in the middle of two shows and watch a bride and groom, who are actually engaged, be tied together with tape, balloons, glue and paint by Michael Alan? Or cringe in the Mary Boone Gallery while watching Terence Koh in “nothingtoodo0” shuffle on his knees around a giant salt mountain?
8 — Open Studios
This year for the first time, I attended the Bushwick Open Studios and had a completely different art-viewing experience from seeing chosen works in the gallery. With the ability to speak to the artists about their work, I found that I liked the art more after having a discussion or at least felt a little more positive about the thought put into certain pieces. To see where an artist works, what inspires them and peer a little bit into their mindset alters the perception of their work immensely.
9 — Dancing in Kenny Scharf’s day-glo masterpiece, the Cosmic Cavern
Maybe my best memory of New York art has been attending the Cosmic-a-Go-Go parties at artist Kenny Scharf‘s day-glo-covered basement in Williamsburg. At these parties, Scharf paints everyone’s face as they enter, turning each attendee into a Scharf art object that belongs in the space.
10 — Going to End with an Obvious One … Some of the Best Art Can Be Found on the Streets
From huge murals to the smallest tags, these flashes of artistic freedom interrupt what is an unarguably tightly controlled city. Some of the graffiti greats are still around and every day some new young kid starts writing graffiti. That freedom and constant reviatlization of graffiti and street art culture is really what makes New York art thrive.
While I’m not completely sure New York is the best city in the world for art, it surely does have a lot of amazing events, exhibitions, history and opportunities. Are there aggravating parts of New York art? Undoubtedly, but sometimes its good to sit down and remember the good.
Now, I want to hear other people’s top ten.