Lightmapping: Monday, May 10, 2010, 1-5pm, an installation made with hazard tape, by Sean Slemon. (Photos by C-M.)
For a short period in the late ’90s, I lived in Paterson, N.J., in a sprawling ramshackle warehouse space over a downtown grocery that was low on heat and high on phylum rodentia. At the time, the city’s 19th and early 20th century textile mills lay largely vacant, a significant portion of its downtown was boarded up. Peruvian and Middle Eastern immigrants occupied the scattered downtown spaces that were in use. Around the perimeter of the city’s heart, projects — of the giant, soul-crushing, 1960s variety — loomed. Few traces remained of the Italian, Irish and Dutch immigrants that had once served as the backbone of the city. Yet, for a time, it was my city — and I spent plenty of time exploring botanicas and beauty supply shops, carbo-loading on Peruvian saltados and admiring the turn-of-the-20th-century architecture. It was for this reason that I was curious to return to Paterson to check out the group show Escape From New York, in which 40-plus contemporary artists took over an old textile mill’s industrial halls. (It was nice to see the downtown area looking more vibrant than it had in the past.)
I had been thinking that this might be an exhibit in which artists would tackle the issues that a community like Paterson faces: a post industrial town trying to survive in an information society. But the title probably says it all. This isn’t a show about Paterson. It’s just a show that’s not in New York. And much of it felt as if artists had parachuted in to do their thing, regardless of whether their “thing” makes sense in a place like Paterson. (Art world inside-joke pieces, such as the ones by William Powhida and Alex Gingrow, seemed particularly jarring.) This doesn’t mean that there wasn’t work inspired by the setting. Numerous pieces paid tribute to the area’s history. Particularly poignant were installations by Sean Slemon (above) and Nicholas Fraser, the latter of whom produced an elaborate floor piece made with chalk dust that quoted words spoken and written about the area (including phrases from William Carlos Williams’ epic poem, Paterson).
Overall, does the show merit the haul to Paterson? Yes, it does. The Fabricolor Building’s architecture is incredible and some of the artists have transformed the space in remarkable ways. Plus, the city’s streets are always worth exploring. (Tip: Pampa Bakery, at 54 Market Street, has an excellent stock of beef empanadas and chilled chicha morada.) It’s a worthwhile journey. Just don’t expect the art to shed too much light on the contemporary nature of the city.
Escape from New York is up through June 19.
Nicholas Fraser’s chalk install, The Paterson Project (Black and White and Red (All Over)), featuring selections from interviews with Paterson workers and pieces of William Carlos Williams’ epic poem Paterson.
Viewers choose a bracelet from Jennifer Dalton’s piece: Would you rather be a loser or a pig? Guess what I am.