Who’s on Third?, by Llyn Foulkes, 1971–73. Part of the artist’s retrospective,Llyn Foulkes, at the New Museum. Opens today, on the Lower East Side. This is a bangin’ show, people. Go see it. And listen to my NPR profile of Foulkes while you’re at it. Or, better yet, if you want to see the artist in person, he is giving a talk on Thursday at 7:30pm. (Courtesy John Jones Collection and the New Museum.)
Utter the words “historic district” and chances are it is will describe some hyper-quaint downtown chock full of gift shops, antique stores and candy emporiums that dispense fudge — photogenic spots where all evidence of daily life (supermarkets, drug stores, gas stations) is abolished in favor of providing camera-strapped hordes with postcard views. I’ve long been intrigued by these hyperreal destinations, which are sold as historic, but seem anything but. It is for this reason that I found the Cronocaos show at the New Museum so thought provoking. (And yes, I know it closed almost a month ago, but these days, I’m a little slow on the uptake.)
Organized by starchitect Rem Koolhaas, of the Office of Metropolitan Architecture, the exhibit provided a highly critical examination of the way in which cities undertake historic preservation efforts. The show, as has been reported — in ArtInfo, the Times and the New Yorker — is kind of a hot mess. Koolhaas throws around some alarming (not entirely substantiated) figures about the percentage of the earth’s surface that is allegedly guarded by some form of preservationist protection. He posits that historic preservation efforts are generally haphazard, that preservation can result in a saccharine sameness (new houses are built to look like old houses) and that it can hinder progress (it’s hard to build innovative new shit, if the old shit can’t be torn down).
Koolhaas doesn’t get anywhere near answering some of the questions he raises. As in: who gets to determine what stays and what factors make a place worth preserving. And, more significantly, how do we, as a society, prevent these places from turning into Disney-esque Main Streets for the moneyed few. Certainly, I’m marginally suspicious of Koolhaas’s motives — he’s the sort of architect who has aspirations of being a city builder, the sort of practice that requires a whole lot of square footage (territory that may come encumbered by landmarks and whatnot). But Cronocaos raises a slew of highly pertinent issues about the ways in which cities whitewash history in an attempt to “preserve” it.
A sort-of-related postscript. There’s no good reason that this exhibit shouldn’t reside online. It’s essentially a PowerPoint presentation printed out on very large paper. If Koolhaas really believes what he says, then he’d let the world see it — and let the ideas evolve and move forward. Rather than trying to, um, preserve them...
UPDATE: Art (and Architecture!) Nurse San Suzie has a response to Koolhaas’s concepts in Cronocaos. And since she works in conservation and has studied issues of preservation, I really wanted to highlight her opinion on this:
I have so much to say as a comment to both the posting and the show that I am not quite sure where to begin. But a few things: first, it is very anachronistic to say that historic preservation is about quaint downtowns. Preservation is not just about the museification of our history. It is also about sustainability: it is much “greener” to preserve a structure than to tear it down, filling our landfills with concrete and steel. Preservation is about keeping structures standing that deserve to stand, about using good practices for maintaining what we already have, and most importantly for creating a sense of place for people in their neighborhoods. The landmarks that surround us — in addition to the corner stores and gas stations — provide a sense of locale to the places we reside. It is important to distinguish between good preservation (keeping buildings in use, keeping them safe, expanding their sustainability) and the Disney-style museification of structures, sites and cities. As a student of urban landscapes, Koolhaas should be in the position to know the difference.
From Jon Rafman’s series The 9 Eyes of Google Street View, Berwick Rd. Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom, which was on view as part of the exhibitFree, at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, until late this last January.
Last month, I launched a semi-regular seriesdevoted to the way the human figure is depicted in contemporary art. This month, I continue it by looking at a number of works I’ve seen recently in museums, galleries and even on the street.
I want to begin this particular round-up with a look at Jon Rafman’s work, which is pictured above, and explores, among other things, the nature of travel. Rafman has ‘traveled’ the world through Google Street View and brought back the screen shots to prove it. This series along with the rest of the show, raised a lot of questions about the future of our online lives: Namely, will we eventually experience art, travel, and relationships exclusively online? How will the virtual experience differ from real-life? How is our view of other people colored by the internet? Certainly, we’re still figuring out the answers to some of those questions. But Rafman’s found imagery speaks to the abilities as well as the limitations of the web.
Find other images after the jump. All photos by me unless otherwise noted.
Brooklyn-based artist William Powhida takes down the New Museum‘s super cozy, highly-questionable relationships with some big-time collectors and gallerists in the upcoming cover of the November Brooklyn Rail. And C-Mon gets a passing mention for being “ethically outraged”!!! (In the future, Mr. Powhida, if you ever want to draw me, here’s what I look like. As you’ll see, I’ve got a much better rack than Tyler Green.)
Sorry I’m not in town for the NuMu pile-on (I’m working on cultivating a veritable constellation of bug bites here in Costa Rica), but you can read all about the brouhaha here, here, here and here. At posting time, I was waiting for the NY TimesArtsbeatblog to get on the case. C’mon dudes: this is home turf. Come out swingin’!!