No Longer Empty at 4th and Broadway – Part 1

The email was intriguing–an arts group would create a faux record store parodying Tower Records — in Tower’s former location in Lower Manhattan at 4th and Broadway.

4th and Broadway, site of Tower Records, now home to a temporary exhibit that parodies Tower
4th and Broadway, site of Tower Records, now home to a temporary exhibit that parodies Tower

“Never Can Say Goodbye” opened last Friday, and Cate and I wandered over to the press preview.  Yes, a press preview — because in spite of what sounds (and in places looks) like a guerilla action, this temporary show of works by 20 artists is run by a pretty sophisticated art outfit called “No Longer Empty.

It’s interesting that both the name of the show and the name of the group organizing the show sound like titles of country western songs.  I’m having some trouble keeping the names straight and was hoping there was a little song for each that would help.

Photo by Cate Fallon. Bling Box orchestra by Ryan Brennan
Photo by Cate Fallon. Bling Box orchestra by Ryan Brennan

Anyway, No Longer Empty (NLE) had press kits for us and a track record of five previous month-long art shows in empty stores in New York.  The group is in a niche that’s hot right now, working with realtors to put art installations in empty stores in hopes of creating buzz and drumming up a new leasee for the space.  Art in empty storefrontsI’ve heard of that.

Never Records installation
Never Records installation, by Ted Riederer

A NLE staffer told us the goal of the art installation is to cue off the previous use of the building — kind of like a historical footnote to what came before.  Nowadays with buildings lying idle for months or years people in the neighborhoods might need a history lesson to get them past thinking the building is just an eyesore.

“Never Can Say Goodbye” nailed the record store ambiance.   Artist/musician Ted Riederer dubbed the store “Never Records” and the place has all the trappings of the old Tower store — bins for vinyl records, a t-shirt and posters zone; a punk-looking (paper sculpture) clerk behind the sales counter and assorted vintage bongs, bumper stickers and other paraphanalia in the glass case below the counter.  There are videos playing; boom boxes booming; posters, even a stage on which there will be live performers each week during the show’s run.

Ryan Brennan with his Bling Box Orchestra
Ryan Brennan with his Bling Box Orchestra

Ryan Brennan‘s boom box orchestra caught our ears immediately as we walked in.  In the entryway, the artist’s 8 vintage boom boxes — decorated with stars, planets and stripes and with colored lights flashing — thumped and pulsed a mix of hip hoppy music that was a great processional for walking into the record store.

Brennan, an amiable young artist who lives in Brooklyn, has a computer station situated in the store’s handicap lift.  It’s there where he supervises the boombox beats.  Happy to chat, he told us he’s a self-taught electronics DIYer with an art degree from Savannah College of Art and Design.  He and his brother spent a lot of time as kids taking apart radio controlled cars and noodling around with the insides. This is his second outing with No Longer Empty — who found him and offered him the shows after seeing his work the Wassaic Summer Art Show, something he highly recommended to us.

Brennan calls the boomboxes the Bling Box Orchestra and he adorns them with screenprinted or spray painted images and then he programs them so that each box plays one of 8 tracks of music which coordinate to make one big wall of sound.  The music is a 30-minute loop that steps you through the evolution of hip hop from reggae to disco etc.  He uses Pro Tools software.

Paper sculpture clerk behind the counter at Never Records
Paper sculpture clerk behind the counter at Never Records

I asked about sampling and copyright issues and he said under “fair use” you’re allowed to sample if you use no more than 10% of the original.  Anyway, to my unschooled ear the beat is recognizable but the specific songs are not.  Brennan had help from DJ Select Inverse and Justin Ferranti in putting together the mix.

The artist made it clear that he’s not a dj.  Nonetheless, he said he was toying with the idea of performing as a dj at the opening…he’d get a couple turntables and headphones and  pretend.  I thought that was great and very in keeping with the spirit of the whole event.  If you don’t see his work here you can catch it soon at the National Arts Club.

Meredith Sparks, You Can't Erase History/u can erase history
Meredith Sparks, You Can’t Erase History/u can erase history

Meredith Sparks has three pieces in the show.  Best is her David Bowie portrait “Space Oddity” which is backlit with fluorescent lights that peek through tiny holes in the image making the man look like glitter personified.   Her giveaway piece “History (sleeves) is pretty good, too — an unlimited edition stack on the floor of record sleeves imprinted with a photo and the words “you can’t erase history, flipside is “u can erase history”.”  I picked one up. Cate passed.

Meredith Sparks, Space Oddity. Photo by Cate Fallon
Meredith Sparks, Space Oddity. Photo by Cate Fallon

The most exciting work in the show is Joe Diebes’s Scherzo, 2008, a short video projection of a cellist furiously bowing a sequence of machine-gun-like staccato notes that don’t add up to a whole song but which convey absolute sound and fury.  The cellist is Rubin Kodheli and the whole thing is mesmerizing, energizing and exhausting to experience. Watch here.

Invader, London Calling album cover done in Rubik's Cubes
Invader, London Calling album cover done in Rubik’s Cubes

Other notable works are Invader’s Rubik’s Cube mosaics which seem to use the real puzzle in works that from up close look like abstractions but which from afar coalesce into the rock album cover images they are based on.

Siebren Versteeg’s “Enjoying Uncertainty”

Siebren Versteeg’s “Enjoying Uncertainty” 2005 perfectly alludes to why Tower Records — which at one time had 89 stores in 20 states but filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in 2006 — went away.  The piece, shown on a monitor, is a static image of a youth holding an album cover over his face.  The monitor is connected to the internet and feeds in a changing array of randomly selected album covers from, the world’s largest online retailer. The internet may replace Tower but the beat goes on.

” Never Can Say Goodbye ” Jan 15th – Feb. 13 @ Former Tower Records Store
692 Broadway @ East 4th Street Hours Wed-Sunday, noon-7 pm