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The only bodega that can afford to thrive today in the Meatpacking District is one made entirely out of felt. 8 ’till late, installed by artist Lucy Sparrow below the High Line, sold all you’d expect from your average convenience store: soap, boxes of instant grits, bags of frozen corn dogs covered in honey batter. Only the items were immortalized in fabric, individually hand cut, stitched, and painted. Business was so good, in fact, that Sparrow shut down her full-scale replica store yesterday, over a week before its intended closing date of June 30.
On any given day over its three-week run, a line of visitors streamed out of the store’s entrance, waiting under the hot sun to Instagram or purchase everything from a plushy $40 chocolate King Cone that will never melt to a $65 cushioned replica of Mamma Bella’s frozen Pre-Sliced Garlic Bread (“made with fresh crushed garlic”).
And what wasn’t to love, or at least fawn over? Inside the 1,200-square-foot space, alongside shelves lined with felt versions of canned vegetables, chip bags, candy, and personal hygiene supplies, were all the amenities of a typical bodega, impeccably realized: an ATM, an ice-cream freezer, a soda-packed fridge, and a cigarette shelf behind the counter. Other, more upscale additions included a hot dog stand (largely a 7-Eleven staple, to nitpick), a meat counter with fancy, weirdly anthropomorphized sausages (on which perched the necessary black bodega cat), and, oddest of all, a shelf with paperbacks, records, and even cassette tapes (was this a bodega for hipsters?). Almost every other object was a more familiar sight, although, I have to say, I’ve never spotted canned pork brains with milk gravy in my neighborhood bodega.
Nearly all of these wares were for sale, priced between $25 (a pack of cigarettes, regardless of brand) and $100 (a giant box of Sun-Maid raisins) — pretty affordable for works of art. But Sparrow and her small team of felt wizards had made only 9,000 objects, and all were snatched up. I’m not surprised, having watched tourists drop cash on over a dozen pieces (the entire installation would have cost you about $500,000). Sparrow’s intention was to highlight the disappearance of neighborhood convenience stores, but 8 ’till late was actually more interesting from an anthropological standpoint: it presented a fascinating opportunity to observe the consumption of art in real time, and at a surprisingly snappy pace. Sparrow gave us art as accessible as it can get.
Notably, IRL access to Sparrow’s works, which are also available for sale online, was created by the Standard Hotel, which invited her to set up shop in its event space known as the Garden Room. The installation’s privileged location underscored its narrative of the threatened independent shop: 8 ’till late stood next to the Standard’s Biergarten, surrounded by trendy brunch spots and designer stores; the only obvious reminder of the area’s gritty past, Hector’s Cafe & Diner, an oasis of egg creams and griddle specials, stands across the street. But Sparrow’s nostalgic nod to real estate and gentrification becomes a little half-hearted when you consider that the bodega’s sponsor was a boutique hotel chain that has hugely transformed the neighborhood.
Still, the immersive shop was immediately impressive for its careful attention to detail. Sparrow, hailing from England, is known for these full-scale pop-ups: she previously created two felt grocery stores in London and Brighton, as well as a 18-and-over felt sex emporium in London and Montreal. Her New York project represented her largest one yet, but it clearly wasn’t enough to satiate the public’s appetite for felt rosé and Prunelax Maximum Relief Tablets. The effort required some six months to research bodega aesthetics and American brands and to stitch together the final products.
Sparrow, of course, is far from the first artist to create a convenience store, although she may be the first to realize one solely out of her textile of choice. Claes Oldenburg famously opened a storefront on the Lower East Side in 1961, filled with sculpted versions of everyday merchandise, all for sale. Since 2007, artist Xu Zhen has shown iterations of his “ShanghART Supermarket” in Miami, Shanghai, and Singapore; the full-scale replica of a typical Chinese convenience store hawks real products completely devoid of their contents, and they’ve proved a big hit at each venue. And earlier this year, Gabriel Orozco created “OROXXO” in Mexico City, a replica of a Mexican convenience store that he stocked with items branded with his artist’s mark.
Like Orozco’s temporary store, Sparrow’s featured a more traditional gallery space in back. On view were more felt pieces, but sorted and arranged in grids and hung on the wall — soft cereal boxes set in a row and stacks of ketchup bottles and spam cans that too quickly recalled Warhols. As editioned works, they sold for much more than their singular counterparts in the main shopping space, priced from $4,500 to $18,500. On a recent visit to the store, barely anyone spent time in this back room, admiring the framed works; they were too busy hunting for just the right piece of painted felt, before it was grabbed up by someone else.
Lucy Sparrow’s 8 ’till late was installed at the Standard, High Line (848 Washington St, Meatpacking District, Manhattan) between June 5–22.