Seurat and the Island of Grande Shoppers

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The subways were running…the power was back on and Stella and I were off to New York again last weekend. Art was where we found it — in the street, in Times Square and in Central Park. Soho on a Saturday afternoon was a zoo, people flocking in and out of stores (the Apple store was a particular draw); blocks and blocks of vendors, some licensed, others not; and the New York-sized crowds shuffling along, oggling each other, eating on the fly, everybody hustling, bustling. [see images of Espo’s nice truck at Spring and Wooster.]

If Seurat were here today, he wouldn’t go to Central Park to make his picture of the leisure time activities of the urbanites. He’d go to Soho and turn any street corner into an island of humanity at its leisure all waiting for the “walk” sign to come on. We are leisure-time shoppers now, not picnickers.

A young woman had an easel set up on West Broadway. She was working on a hard-edged abstract painting and had a few finished works for sale. The paintings were nothing special and I wondered about the mind-set that could block out the passing scene and work on something so austere. Why would you…and how could you were my questions.

A kid had a small army of clay figures set up on the hood of his car. [see image of another retail army — fur-clad dolls in a window on Houston.] They were nice, little caricatures in clay but he wasn’t doing any business. In fact nobody seemed to be selling except the digital photography vendors who’d take your picture and print it out for a couple bucks.

We were with my sister, Cate, who lives in the neighborhood, and she kept getting more and more alarmed as we passed by this, that and another store that had closed. Bad economy, lots of window shopping.

We went into the Diesel Denim Gallery to feed Stella’s jeans obsession and, don’t laugh, Diesel has an art program. [In fact, read a review of a previous show at the store by New Museum curator Erin Barnett] Amidst the blue jeans and dressing rooms was video art by John Slepian (West Coast artist who recently was in PS 1‘s studio program) playing on a half-dozen monitors, some of them locked up in glass display cases. The imagery was body/blobs, hairy and orificial… kind of creepy but endearing, in a sci-fi-lab-experiment-gone-wrong kind of way. [see image of Slepian’s “the Spectator 2.0”] Reception for the artist Sept. 3, 8 pm-10 pm, all you videophiles, and the work will be up until sept. 21. Diesel Denim Gallery is at 88 Greene St. 212-966-5593.

Speaking of video art, I wanted to see Jeremy Blake’s video, “Cowboy Waltz,” playing in Times Square in a Creative Time project called “The 59th minute.” (i.e. the piece runs the last minute of each hour). But I flubbed the arrival time and after spending fifteen, mind-numbing minutes in Times Square at 9 pm Saturday night, Jeremy Blake lost out. Video art doesn’t stand a chance in this environment. Art doesn’t stand a chance. Has any art in Times Square ever held its own?

Finally, making our way uptown the next day, we saw Wim Delvoy’s big steam shovel sculpture, “Caterpillar” in Central Park at 59th St. [see images] A thing of rusty, lacey beauty, it had Eiffel Tower charm, although I was a little underwhelmed by it. I wanted it to be bigger, loonier…to talk to me. It was just another conceptual object looking for a reason to be there. Enough street art, time for the bus home and for the soaking rain that held off until we were safely enroute.

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