A long and in some ways disillusioning day, that will take a little processing time to fully put into perspective.
I had some time to spare before my meeting with Nelson Santos, Executive Director of Visual AIDS, so I went to the Rubin Museum in Chelsea.
I’d just missed the Gen P. Orridge exhibition but there is a permanent collection there of examples of the art and cultures of the Himalaya’s, India and neighbouring regions that I wanted to see.
The artefacts there were stunning, but I was put off by the feeling that I was in a high end glossy hotel, and moved off to explore other exhibitions in the area.
That’s when it got weird!
I found huge desolate blocks of white walled, glass fronted galleries piled on top of each other with rows of slick black trucks parked outside, appearing like some corporate banking conveyor belt of art.
Perhaps I was jaded after seeing a woman in £1200 Louboutin’s tucking money into the wheelchair of a legless homeless man before stepping into her limo, perhaps I was just tired but as an untrained artist I was never educated in the in-depth mores of moving within this realm of the art world.
I’ve exhibited, organised art events and had my written work published for many years and though I have mixed with many of the proverbial movers and shakers of the creative world, I still would be considered to operate very firmly in the nether regions of the counter culture.
Where I am at the present moment is so, so different, and before I make any judgements and conclusions I need to look more at grass roots and mid range art and events.
Meeting Nelson Santos was a breath of fresh air (I’ll write a blog specifically on this tomorrow) with his combination of pragmatic professionalism, activism and ethics.
Before we started talking specifically about Visual AIDS I told him that I’d been photographing urban art in various countries for many years. I mentioned that I was finding it difficult to ascertain whether the street art in New York was sponsored or spontaneous. He said it was mainly sponsored which was gutting, but then hope sprung, thank god, when we discussed various Groundswell and garden art projects that are spontaneous, create impact on the community and represent urban art in action.
Now I need to sleep.
I woke up as always to sirens (is it just the area I’m staying in, or are there constant sirens in New York?) and decided that as this is my last relatively appointment free day, I would simply walk and look.
I avoided the World Trade Centre Area. Although the opening of the Oculus building’s fan like roof to let the sun in, both symbolically and literally, sounded wonderful, moving and intriguing it also seemed like something to be experienced by those who were more directly affected by 9-11, which today was the anniversary of.
I walked instead along wealthy shopping areas of Manhattan. I saw incredible Brownstone and Art Deco buildings that reminded one of how much wealth flowed into America in those times.
I also saw the broken windows and soot stained walls of the old garment district buildings.
Intermingled amongst all of this, I came across far too many human beings in the most degenerate and tragic states of poverty.
I accidentally gate-crashed New York Fashion Week and saw thin fashion models being photographed, while behind them a toothless,homeless woman hurled abuse from her nest of cardboard.
I wandered through the trendy and well heeled Chelsea area, passing the legendary Chelsea Hotel and saw wonderful street art that I wasn’t sure was sponsored or spontaneous.
I also came across powerful politically orientated posters and stencils on building walls.
Once again though, the most moving and affecting art, was in the gardens and corners of housing estates; a mural that was a memorial to an 11 year old child that had been killed, a garden that mingled plants, flags and the urge to vote, and an area in a housing project built to offer family activity ‘where dreams and wishes are planted’.
My final few days of random art explorations before I get thrown into a maelstrom of meeting, greeting, schmoozing and networking.
The mood around the World Trade Centre today, on the eve of the anniversary of 9-11, was more sombre and intense than yesterday to the point of being overwhelming.
I walked along Wall Street to get my connecting train to Brooklyn, passing poverty stricken bodies huddled in the most opulent of decorative doorways.
Williamsburg where I went to a flea market reminds me in some ways of the ‘new’ Hackney or Shoreditch, and yes, there is a lot more street art there.
The most impressive urban art I have seen though has been the gardens, both private ones and community projects like the Groundswell gardens which create a transformative magic that affects and transforms everything around them. Now that’s true art!