Art21 has launched a new documentary series. Called New York Close Up, the series, according to Art21’s informative website, “provides an intimate look at the next wave of artists- artists close up.” Clearly they’ve set the bar on clever titles. The series documents the life and work of ten emerging artists: Lucas Blalock, Martha Colburn, Keltie Ferris, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Tommy Hartung, Rashid Johnson, Kalup Linzy, Shana Moulton, Mariah Robertson and Mika Tajima. New York Close Up launched with a party at the Ace Hotel’s Liberty Hall last Thursday. While not as nice as fellow intern’s assignment at The Standard (screw you, Alex), it was still a fairly fancy party filled with very attractive people sipping very expensive drinks.
I brought “a photographer” friend, Laura, in order to avoid standing by myself not talking to anyone. Instead, we stood together and didn’t talk to anyone. After a half hour-long search for one of the overworked waitresses, we were finally able to order some nasty raspberry Stoli for eleven bucks each. The lack of open bar was devastating.
For an event that started at the ungodly hour of 7 PM, it was pretty crowded. As an unabashed lover of all things trash television, I was more excited than I should admit to see stars from Bravo’s ridiculous Work of Art. Trong G. Nguyen was there, sporting a slightly more extreme asymmetrical haircut, but I was especially excited to see Nicole Nadeau, who bears the added Bravo pedigree of being LuAnn de Lesseps’s niece. Sadly, Simone de Pury did not show up.
Clips from New York Close Up were shown throughout most of the event on mute. From what I can tell, most of the series shows various up-and-comers living in shitty apartments in the Bronx, wearing body paint and Kalup Linzy getting photographed. James Franco also makes at least one appearance. At around eight there was an official screening, with short speeches from Art21 executive director Sarah Sollins and Wes Miller and Nik Ravitch, the producers of the series.
Miller described the project as something that is “about collaborating with artists and telling their stories … We wanted something intimate and close, something in New York, something a little dirty, a little strange, and something that captures the nature of these artists lives.” Ravitch thanked their interns and mentioned the adage that New York is run on interns, which, as a collegiate intern at Hyperallergic, I could appreciate. They also thanked the ten artists who took part in the project. Four of them were over an hour late.
The producers then showed a clip of the film with actual sound. This section of the series focused on the young photographer Lucas Blalock, showing him working in his living room/studio. Blalock works with a 4 by 5 camera, shooting inanimate objects against various backdrops. The video showed him explaining his process. “Objects that have something pathetic about them are really interesting to me,” said Blalock. On photography, Blalock said, “To me, the most successful picture is one that doesn’t fall into a category.” On that level, his intentions seem fully realized. The only thing I can think of to liken his pictures to are mathematical still lifes, and I liked them quite a lot.
New York Close Up has an interesting premise. I do like the idea of seeing artists at work, seeing how they visualize and create their work. But the whole premise of New York Close Up is vaguely masturbatory. This new series shares several similarities with other Art21 projects in that there is no real dialogue about the work. There is no outside criticism, only artists talking about their own vision and Art21 congratulating them on a job well done.
Many visual artists aren’t skilled at discussing their own work. They work in a visual medium, not with words, which is why they aren’t writers. New York Close Up claims to be a documentary series, but without showing well-rounded commentary, it feels much more like a reality television show, and a not very entertaining one at that. If the goal of New York Close Up is to be entertainment, then it’s a failure. I’d rather watch a Real Housewife flip a table any day.
The only artist shown in New York Close Up that I had any kind of interaction with was also it’s most famous: Kalup Linzy. Linzy DJ’d the party, and he was awesome. He played a mix of sixties and seventies girl pop, soul and disco that was by far the best part of the whole event. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I introduced myself to him, saying that I worked for Hyperallergic and that I really enjoyed his work, especially his excellent DJ skills. The guy couldn’t have been any nicer. I also really wish that he could DJ my birthday next weekend.
I liked getting to go to a fancy art party with fancy art people. I liked Kalup Linzy. I liked the Ace Hotel. I was more mixed in regards to New York Close Up. I wish that Art21 would create content on artists with more analysis into what the artists actually create. But I don’t foresee that happening any time soon.
Art21’s New York Close Up is a web series available for viewing here.