In the contemporary Lower East Side–a neighborhood of unlimited brunch spots, luxury condos and pristine white-walled galleries, artist-run punk haven ABC No Rio stands defiant as a welcome anachronism. Whether interpreted as a graffiti-covered blight or a monument to the heavily romanticized culture spawned downtown in the late 20th century, ABC No Rio has acted as a hub for a community of artists for over three decades. The space remains inexorably tied to the last gasps of the neighborhood’s gritty essence, which is why the plans for its sleek renovation seem almost shocking.
With the demolition and reconstruction finally on the horizon after years of delays due to bureaucratic red tape (AFC even published a series of interviews on ABC No Rio in 2012 in anticipation of its forthcoming closure), the nagging question remains: will the experience of ABC No Rio be the same without the fear of falling through their stairs or tumbling into some industrial waste in the backyard?
The Yorkville neighborhood is to Toronto what the Upper East Side’s Park Avenue is to New York. In a word: bougie. Back in the 1960s, it looked considerably different; as Canada’s equivalent to Greenwich Village, it was known for its waify bohemians, coffee house folk scene and a gallery district anchored by influential commercial gallerists like Walter Moos and Mira Godard. But offices and hotels were eventually built, followed by high-priced condo developments amongst the still remaining Victorian rowhouses now listed for over a million each. Yorkville’s biggest attraction is now it’s “Mink Mile”, a high-end luxury shopping strip that caters to the affluent residents of Rosedale and Forest Hill.
Given all this, perhaps it’s not surprising that at first glance, one could mistake the group exhibition Chroma Lives for an interior design showroom. Located in the presentation center for the Yorkville Plaza condo development on Avenue Road, curators Erin Alexa Freeman and artist Lili Huston-Herterich have filled the space with household items like walnut furniture, succulents planted in unglazed ceramic pots, and clothing hung on a rack. Not much distinguishes this simulacrum of affluence from present-day realities, especially at a time when luxury real estate has been engineered to include art walls and humidity systems to attract art-centric buyers.
What image is conjured by a woman smoker? Is she chain-smoking Betty Draper living in a Mad Men world defined by advertising and women’s magazines, or grungy and addled Courtney Love, tossing her lipstick-smeared cigarette butts at unsuspecting and adoring fans?
Whether exemplifying the height of ladylike femininity or illustrating the depths of a disheveled mess, there is no denying that throughout history, smoking has come to define numerous female stereotypes.
On a sunny Sunday afternoon, the second floor of Toronto’s Theater Center was packed with artists for the panel DAMNED IF YOU DO: A Conversation on the Politics of Refusal. Co-presented by local artist-run center Whippersnapper Gallery, the panel focused on stories and strategies from the trenches of the “marginalized”: namely, the tricky pursuit of navigating art and funding systems as an “artist of colour” or “visible minority” or whatever fraught PC term can describe what it means to be a racialized body in the art world.
“How can you say that affordable housing should go towards artist studios rather than homeless domestic violence victims?”
The question, asked on Monday evening by the Village Voice’s Neil deMause during dinner at a luxurious Chelsea apartment, sent some hands reaching for wine glasses. It was a moment in William Powhida and Jennifer Dalton’s MONTH2MONTH, the public art project running in private residences around the city throughout May, that made the stakes of such a project’s engagement housing uncomfortably clear. The guests at the dinner, a varied mix of artists, patrons and the curious, were faced with a paradox of the liberal sensibility whereby supporting the arts might be tantamount to taking housing away from the truly needy. At least until Powhida announced that he, an artist, didn’t think artists should be given studio space over anyone.The problem is one of affordability. The discussion moved on, drinks were refilled.
In the age of poor doors and museum-sanctioned real estate summits, MONTH2MONTH, produced by MoreArt, asks what role the art community, which is so often viewed as an agent of gentrification, can play in the debate around NYC housing.
Sometimes you happen upon an exhibition that is so bang-on in its intent and presentation that all you can do is stand back and admire its charms. Such is the lucky fate of anyone who wanders into “When The Cat’s Away, Abstraction”, a new group show highlighting works that begin from digital sources and end in traditional commodities.