Dear Readers

 

Dear Readers and Friends,

I will never forget the evening of Monday October 29, 2012. The night before was the reception for my exhibition, Work According to the Rail, Part I (After the Flood), at Showroom Gallery in the Lower East Side. Upon returning to Greenpoint, my wife the painter Nathlie Provosty and I, along with Cy Morgan, the sculptor and former Rail Distribution Manager, went to a local Mexican restaurant for dinner, the only place open. The following day we prepared my studio to sustain approximately three feet of water. As the water was beginning to rise rapidly around 9 p.m., we decided to stay up and watch Bruce Lee’s great classic, Enter the Dragon. By 1 a.m., after the swell, we discovered that my work from the last 25 years, along with substantial portions of the Rail archives and The Brooklyn Rail/Black Square Editions, had been submerged and destroyed. The studios of several neighboring artists at 99 Commercial Street suffered a similar fate.

The Brooklyn Rail's temporary office at Come Together: Surviving Sandy, Year 1

Now that Come Together: Surviving Sandy, Year 1 has opened to the public, the sentiment of commemorating the tragedy has partly turned to one of celebration, marking the resilient spirit of the survivors one year later. With over 20,000 visitors so far, an infectious and positive energy has generated from the nearly 750 works of art by over 300 artists from Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan. The Rail has temporarily relocated to the second floor of the exhibition as a social sculpture; it is there that we completed production for this issue, where we will fully produce the December/January issue, and where we will continue to coordinate public programming for the exhibition. Poetry readings, film screenings, dance and musical performances, and panel discussions will all take place before the show closes on December 15.

Through this extraordinary experience, I’m reminded that society only substitutes for small fragments of the human spirit, and that other fragments can be expressed only through art. Artists find that the exceptional nature of the artist resides in the nature of his or her work. This characteristic distinguishes being an artist from other professions (as does the fact that the notion of retirement does not apply to them whatsoever). Artists are those who have already accepted the uncertainty of their creative impulse. Hence social ambiguity is not fearful to them. It is why we still believe in art for art’s sake and why we know that art is pertinent, even touching people who think that they do not care about art at all.

I’m reminded of my own commitment to art through experiences with all of the people behind the Sandy exhibit, including Sal Coppola, the building superintendent, whose brilliant smile kept my spirit up everyday; Ben Berger and Peter Terranova, the wall and lighting geniuses whose perfection and excitement for the exhibition went unmatched; and Izzy Nachum, who had to shift gears so many times, ever so swiftly. From the collective front of Industry City, I’d like to thank first Michael Phillips for his steadfast insistence on quality as a permanent requirement for aesthetic; Bruce Federman and Glen Siegel for sharing equal weight in bringing the awareness and supports from their colleagues from the other side of the East River; and Andrew Kimball, who valiantly dealt with broader concerns of various potentials for the local community in Sunset Park.

On the logistical side of dealing with this immense 100,000-square-foot space, nothing would have ever materialized without the tireless architects Brian Flanagan and J.P. Rosenbaum; Andrew “Fearless” Peerless, who ran weekly meetings as smooth as silk; and Cy Morgan (a Sandy victim and participant artist) who became the installation director extraordinaire overnight. Similarly invaluable was the curatorial team led by the remarkable Anna Tome, David Willis, Margaret Graham, Eric Sutphin, and Jana Brooks, among others, working alongside Rail Managing Director par excellence Sara Christoph. The clear-headed Managing Editor Sara Roffino, the Rail’s production assistants, and many dedicated volunteers all rose to the occasion, as did our intrepid designers Walter Chiu and Maggie Barrett, without whom we would have been lost. I cannot thank enough the indefatigable Dedalus Foundation team: Katy Rogers, Claire Altizer, Michael Mahnke, and Gretchen Opie for their unfailing camaraderie. And above all, I’d like to thank the uncompromising Morgan Spangle for sharing his expertise and wisdom, and Jack Flam, along with Dedalus’s other board members, especially John Elderfield, for sparking the fire and keeping it burning bright throughout the exhibit and beyond. Jack’s unconditional love for art and dedication to our art community are a solid testament for those of us who are trying to grow our not-for-profits in fertile ground.

I should mention that all 15 installers and 12 minders of the exhibit are artists, musicians, future curators, or museum administrators, many of whom have just graduated from college. Working with them felt like home, and I thank them all for their mutual rapport and spontaneity.

We’re in debt to the amazing generosity of our sponsors, who all came to the collective support in crunch time. Lastly, I would like to thank all of the participant artists and their respective gallerists, who have contributed not only their works, but their high spirits and profound vocations to the culture of art, making all accessible without compromise. Our lives are inevitably enriched by all they do. 

Onward,

Phong

P.S. On behalf of the Rail, I would also like to send our deep condolences to family members and friends of the luminaries Lou Reed, Arthur Danto, Ellen Lanyon, Stephen Antonakos, Anthony Caro, and Frank Lima.

Contributor

Phong Bui

ADVERTISEMENTS