Thursday, April 5, 2007

The New Museum-Re: New York Times Museum section:

Re: New York Times Museum section:
“On The Bowery, a New Home for New Art” by Carol Vogel. March 28, 2007

The New Museum characterizing the Bowery neighborhood as languishing tells me that director Phillips, et al, didn’t spend enough time here to know where they were moving to: a vibrant community with interesting people and institutions all of it’s own.

To name a few: The Bowery SRO’s, The Bowery Poetry Club, The Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center, The Museum of the Chinese in the Americas, University Settlement, The Tenement Museum, St. Augustine’s Slave Galleries, Eldridge Street Synagogue, The Bowery Mission, ABC No Rio, St. Patricks Old Cathedral, Dixon Place, Liz Christy and M’Finda Kalunga Gardens, etc. The list is long. The difference is that these institutions were built by people who live and work here as an outgrowth of the creativity that exists in every community. Working class and poor people’s culture is real culture.

I would also take issue with the Museum describing itself as “cutting edge”. Most of this article focused on finances (apparently this is the expertise of many on the Board). There is nothing cutting edge about yet another real estate deal here that buys cheap land to build an upper class institution on. It ultimately encourages pricing people and their grass roots institutions out. Officials were quoted as saying “once the new building opens, it will change the complexion of the Lower East Side”. Some of us don’t consider changing the complexion of the neighborhood a plus.

This museum seems proud that it was part of the same force that drove artists and small galleries out of SoHo paving the way for the boutique and condo scene that exists there now. The “rough” neighborhood that the museum claims to be attracted to ends as they arrive. A clear glimpse into the museum’s mindset was its first show on the Bowery involving a periscope that peeked into the “living room” of SRO tenants. It allowed well-heeled but timid passers-by to take their “walk on the wild side” without having to actually walk upstairs to meet the men who live there. The exploitation of vulnerable people came disturbingly to mind.

As we have made way for high-rent buildings and a pallid version of “exciting” we have lost a great deal of our distinctiveness. Among the departed: the last remaining Bowery Dance Hall, writer Kate Millet, Adam Purple’s Garden of Eden, Tonic, a lower scale skyline, the chance to examine the African Burial Ground that exists under part of the New Museum, along with many more of the people and places that made this place unique.

In a neighborhood with this much depth I would encourage this museum to tread with a bit more humility or at least consciousness. Marcia Tucker, who understood authentic cutting-edge art, probably would have.