A Pre-Owned Song? A Second Hand Uzi?

the continuation of...
Abridged 0 – 4: An(other) Irishman in New York

Curator Greg McCartney, selecting for a 2007 Context project, continues his reports from an Arts Council of Northern Ireland Residency in New York.

Well, I’ll start with the subways. The subways are great. Every city should have one. In fact I should have my own personal one. They don’t come with the graffiti of yesteryear, so there is a nice depersonalised uniformity about them. There is a scratchfiti so to speak where tag marks are scratched into windows with sharp instruments or acid-like chemicals. It has in theory artistic potential I suppose but at the moment it just looks like vandalism. I’m finding my feet with the subways and people are friendly and helpful enough when asked for directions.

I suppose I should mention the art. I’ve seen a hell of a lot of exhibitions. You don’t from the outside realise how many galleries there actually are over here until you actually visit New York. I won’t mention the work that is potentially coming to Derry because it isn’t fair as nothing has been finalised and well it would ruin the surprise wouldn’t it? (In parenthesis I’m currently getting my futbol fix by watching Inter Milan v Roma on a Latin-American channel – they only ever seem to show rounders – (you know what sport I mean) on television here) Anyway back to the art; I saw one of the most beautiful videos works I’ve ever seen by Hiraki Sawa (Sorry, Roma have just scored and the commentators are doing the Goooooooooaaaaal thing; possibly in self parody, possibly not.) at the James Cohen gallery in Chelsea. Imagine sitting there for an hour watching nothing happen apart from a little model plane fly across a window pane or little carousel horses swim across a bathtub. Sometimes the most profound insights into the human condition can come out of the most subtle glances. Words like ‘charm’ and ‘enchantment’ have been used patronisingly but their original meaning was powerful and if a work of art can enchant a person, well you know its bloody good. This guy Sawa will be big, so if anybody gallery connected sees this; bring him to Ireland!

I’ve talked to some very nice people here in New York who have kindly given me their time (I won’t embarrass you by naming names – you know who you are) and so a thank you for that. I’ve seen a lot of different types of spaces, most variations of the white cube and quite a few on the same physical scale as the Context and Void. We’re lucky to have such good spaces as we do in Derry and hopefully we won’t ruin them. Anyway back to the art; Lynne Gelfman’s painting in a really small underground (literally rather than philosophically) space were pretty amazing. Abstraction done with verve and imagination. Multi-layered constructs playing with the viewer’s perception. Really great and standing out in the morass of dodgy but saleable abstraction. Bizarrely, or perhaps not to his many fans, John Waters’ exhibition at the Marianne Boesky gallery was really memorable. Not even remotely subtle and in the grand tradition of his films (though there was no, ahem ‘excrement’ eating he said politely in this show). Among the standout pieces were disturbingly lifelike recreations of Michael Jackson and Charles Manson as grown-up babies. Weird! (In case you’re interested the match ended 1-1 and with Roma down to ten men too.)

Well that’s about it for this report, though I realise I haven’t mentioned Donald Trump as I promised. Well I’m not going to. But back to the subways. One of the rather melancholy aspects of subway journeys are the panhandlers. Some to be fair are rather joyful, as in the young guys break-dancing. A back somersault on a moving train is very impressive I can tell you. Or the gospel singers which appear every now and again. But others are just sad. Like the stumbling old ladies playing harmonicas or the young and very ill looking men looking for dollars. Of course you can’t give to everyone, but you feel like you should. And there’s the very good chance you’re being completely conned but what can you do? God I think I’m inventing working-class guilt. Oh dear.

Well next report will consist of more rambling about art, American television (an obvious target but all I can say is in comparison Channel 5 is an intellectual Godsend…though maybe not Channel Four), politics and the ‘middle income’, tea, Rounders (sorry but it was only a matter of time before I got on my high-horse about it) and Donald Trump.

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