THE ART OF RESILIENCE: ARTIST NOTES FROM THE NEW YORK CITY
In the studio at the 4 World Trade Center located on the 28th floor at Silver Art Projects residency.
I have long wanted to explore the New York art scene and immerse myself in the energy of the city. I wrote about my desire to make the move in my Fall 2018 newsletter. Now two years later, I am finally writing to you from that great metropolis.
I was apprehensive about coming to New York, a city that was ravaged severely and early by the pandemic. After living and working here for three months, I don’t have the slightest doubt that it was the right move and that I’m better for it. Here’s why.
The move was precipitated by an incredible opportunity of being awarded a studio at the World Trade Center, as one of 24 artists in a residency program sponsored by Manhattan developer, Silverstein Properties. The World Trade Center was reborn out of tragedy due to the indomitable spirit of the people of New York, including visionaries like Larry Silverstein. This legacy resonated with me as I aspire to capture these qualities of heroism and ingenuity in my portraits of Machines.
New Yorkers are now facing yet another great challenge. The pandemic has killed over 20,000 people in the city and brought misery to many more. It has pushed the city close to the brink of economic and social collapse.
I am not an economist and my perspective is that of an immigrant and an artist. What I see on the streets of New York is resilience and strength. I have witnessed many acts of kindness, and feel a strong sense of community from the people of this great city. I bike from the West Village where I live to my studio in downtown Manhattan, and I couldn’t feel safer. I pass wonderful outdoor restaurants full of diners, fashionistas donning their fancy-brand masks, joggers along the river, and construction workers waving hello -- friendly as if Manhattan was a small town. At the same time, I realize that many people are struggling, including artists. I sense the anxiety and fear behind their face masks. Autumn in Manhattan is a wonderful thing, but winter is coming. The character of New Yorkers are being tested once again and I have no doubt they are up for the task. As a great city, New York has always endured and overcome tragedy to thrive again.
1918: Train conductors in New York, like many residents at the time, wore masks for protection against influenza. (US/National Archives)
Many are concerned about the long term implications of the pandemic on cities because of its associated accelerated adoption of internet technologies, which have made it possible for many to cope. In the new age of zoom conferencing, work from home, remote learning and other forms of ‘hermit tech’ -- Is there any benefit from living in such a densely populated place as New York? The case for cities by Harvard economics professor Edward Gleaser still holds, as laid out in his book “Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier.” These technologies have been a lifesaver for us all, but they cannot offer what a city like New York can -- serendipity of the unexpected chance encounters, exposure to diverse cultures and perspectives, and the spark of innovation that comes from the close proximity to a large number of entrepreneurial, hard-working, intellectually-curious people.
“I came to New York to study art, and to meet artists. And where do you find artists? In bars", James Rosenquist writes in his autobiography Painting Below Zero. Demolished in 1964, the Cedar Tavern was a nondescript neighborhood bar on the west side of University Place. In the 1950s it became the favorite hangout of major artists.
As an artist, I depend for inspiration on the fertile environment that only a city can provide. New York has a rich history of bringing together experimental, vanguard artists living and working closely together, sharing studio spaces and exchanging ideas in cafes and bars. This has led to innovative art movements like the New York School in the 1950s, with Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, William de Kooning and Robert Motherwell at its center, and joined by the old guard of European surrealists like Marcel Duchamp who had come to New York to escape Nazi Germany. A couple decades later, New York’s ethos was a reason why Andy Warhol opened the Factory on East 47th Street and took the art of serendipity to a whole new level. Most of his best work was created there (Campbell Soup, Marylin Diptych) and even though he was forced to relocate three times, he always insisted on staying in Manhattan. The Factory was a hub for creatives, celebrities, subcultures - a microcosm of what makes New York New York.
How will artists capture the zeitgeist of the new, post-pandemic New York? Lower housing costs and more available studio spaces may lead to a great revival of the New York art scene. And if the past is a predictor of the future, the rest of the city will follow. The New York art scene has endured many catastrophes and setbacks, as a great laboratory for artistic experimentation, and will heroically rise to the occasion again!
“This is the uniquely human need, what man everywhere is really all about—each person’s need to be an object of primary value, a heroic contributor to world-life—the heroic contributor to the destiny of man.” ― Ernest Becker, The Birth and Death of Meaning: An Interdisciplinary Perspective on the Problem of Man