The Enduring Stink of Lucien Smith’s Out of Touch Art Rave

by Rea McNamara on November 3, 2015 · 5 comments Opinion

An Instagram shot of bullet-ridden cars from Lucien Smith's "Scrap Metal" series. Image credit: Daily Mail

An Instagram shot of the Lucien Smith bullet-ridden cars featured in his “Macabre Suite”. Image credit: Daily Mail

Jeanne Greenberg-Rohatyn is on clean-up duty. Since Monday’s deluge of overwhelming negative press over artist Lucien Smith’s “Macabre Suite”, the art dealer has faced fire for co-hosting Smith’s “curated” event in celebration of two new luxury condo towers breaking ground along the South Bronx waterfront. (Conveniently enough, Greenberg-Rohatyn is rumored to be starting another gallery in the Bronx.)

The warehouse rave took place on October 29 in a former piano factory under the Third Avenue Bridge in Port Morris. Underlined by real estate developers Somerset Partners — who purchased the properties on the Harlem river for $58 million and want to rebrand the neighbourhood as the “Piano District”—the event included bullet-riddled cars from Smith’s “scrap metal” series, and flaming trash bins. The aesthetic: a ruin porn throwback to 1970s and ’80s New York.

As gleaned by the Rich Kids of Instagram-esque shots shared via social media, among the reported 2,000 attendees were models Naomi Campbell and Kendall Jenner, filmmaker Baz Luhrmann, actor Adrien Brody and basketball player Carmelo Anthony. AFC’s Whitney Kimball, also in attendance, told us she met Rumney Guggenheim, the great grandson of Peggy Guggenheim and owner of “Rumney Guggenheim” gallery, which was the subject of a recent Ben Davis slam. She also mentioned there were people doing blow in the line to get in, and when the party ended at 2:30 in the morning, there were yellow school buses available to drive people back to Manhattan. She overheard people saying things like, “the Bronx isn’t so far away from Manhattan. I could see myself living there.”

In Greenberg-Rohatyn’s statement to artnet’s Cait Munro, the dealer emphasized Smith’s mash-up of the neighborhood’s cultural influences: a Japanese butoh and Sioux dance, for instance, was “explicitly aimed at promoting inclusion and diversity.” Kool Herc and Frankie Bones, DJs with ties to the neighborhood, performed on the same bill as rapper Travis Scott. Oh, and those metal trash can fires stationed outside the party? Those were not part of Smith’s installation.

It’s a glaring sign of bad curation when it isn’t clear to viewers what was and wasn’t an artwork. What made Smith’s curatorial project so offensive, utterly indefensible, completely grotesque and out of touch was what was absent. Where are the residents whose struggles these art party set pieces are supposed to represent? In curating works that recreate the experience of living in post-Cross Bronx Expressway neighborhood, he conveniently did not include the lived struggles that came along with that. When you take away the homeless, those who live in public housing, those who struggle with drug addiction; ignore the experience of being surrounded by power plants and industrial facilities, or bodegas selling pesticide-coated produce that’s spent the day sitting in a Manhattan warehouse, all that’s left is reinforced ignorant stereotypes.

Despite Greenberg-Rohatyn’s artnet assertion that the “entire Piano District community” was involved, Gothamist’s round-up of tweets reveal that a key group wasn’t: South Bronx’s local residents. Indeed, we’ve now reached a point where we’ve gone from companies buying naming rights on stadiums to real estate developers thinking they have the right to rebrand neighbourhoods as district.

“I don’t want to do shows anymore—the opening, the dinner, all of that,” complained Smith before the rave’s furor. “You can never do an art show like this all the time, but everybody’s going to remember this.”

And he’s right. Everyone is going to remember how last week’s “art happening” was, in the words of Bronx blogger Ed Garcia Conde, “the tale of two cities on full display.”

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