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Raphael Rubinstein

Raphael Rubinstein is the author of The Miraculous (Paper Monument, 2014) and A Geniza (Granary Books, 2015). He is currently writing a book about the Jewish-Egyptian writer Edmond Jabès. A Professor of Critical Studies at the University of Houston School of Art, he divides his time between Houston and New York.

Guest Critic

To Whom It Must Concern

I’m sure that sometimes you’ve asked: “Who am I writing for?” The answer may have been: for the artist, for the “viewing public,” for curious collectors, for posterity, for yourself (perhaps in order to understand something otherwise ungraspable about the work). But what happens if you ask: “Who am I writing to?”

Letter to the Editor

In his review of Eliot Weinberger’s Oranges and Peanuts For Sale (September 2009), Michael Sandlin describes Vicente Huidobro, George Oppen and Gu Cheng as “obscure long-deceased poets.”

In Conversation

James Harithas with Raphael Rubinstein

It must have been around 1997 that I was having lunch with Jim Harithas and Norman Bluhm on Mercer Street in SoHo and I described to them an exhibition I’d just seen at the Drawing Center.

In Conversation

SHIRLEY JAFFE WITH RAPHAEL RUBINSTEIN

Can the same painting give us difficulty and joie de vivre? If you have ever encountered a painting by Shirley Jaffe, you know the answer to this question.

Poem Beginning with a Line from Robert Ashley

it was an almost perfect place to be 15 years ago

In Conversation

CHARLINE VON HEYL with Raphael Rubinstein

Breaking expectations, Charline von Heyl demonstrates that you can be an enthusiastic scavenger of bygone eras in art while producing paintings that look, and are, completely contemporary.

In Conversation

HOLLY ZAUSNER with Raphael Rubinstein

A few days before Holly Zausner’s exhibition of recent collages and film opened at Postmasters (June 21 – August 3), Raphael Rubinstein visited the artist in her New York studio to talk about her work across various media and why she decided to title the show A Small Criminal Enterprise.

In Conversation

PIERRE BURAGLIO with Raphael Rubinstein

During the “events” of May 1968, when students and workers brought the French nation to a standstill and almost toppled the government of Charles de Gaulle, the streets were filled with punchy, quickly produced posters and flyers.

In Conversation

GUILLERMO KUITCA with Raphael Rubinstein

Painter Guillermo Kuitca sits down with Raphael Rubinstein to discuss the recent "Family Idiot" paintings, curatorial collaborations with the Cartier Foundation, and the shifting reception of Latin American art in the US.

In Conversation

Bernard Piffaretti with Raphael Rubinstein

In early May, French painter Bernard Piffaretti was in New York for the opening of his exhibition at Lisson Gallery in Chelsea. On the morning of the opening, Bernard and I sat down at the gallery to talk about his work. In preparing for our meeting, it struck me that even though I have known Bernard for a long time—we met in Paris around 1990 through Shirley Jaffe—I knew very little about his early years, so that’s where we began. The interview was conducted in French, which I have translated. A few brief written passages, also originally in French, were added later.

In Conversation

Glenn Ligon with Raphael Rubinstein

Glenn Ligon’s practice is so multi-faceted that separate interviews could be devoted to his curating and to his art writing, as well as to the most obvious topic of his art-making. Recently, Ligon has also directly addressed online misuse of his work. While we touched on those topics, this conversation, which was conducted on Zoom the month before his November exhibition of new work at Hauser & Wirth in New York (this will be his first New York show with the gallery), focuses on his art, especially his recent mural-scaled paintings using the entire text of James Baldwin’s 1953 essay “A Stranger in the Village.”

In Search of the Miraculous

His public is shocked when this abstract painter living on the Côte d’Azur paints a series of canvases unlike anything he has ever done before. In contrast to the restrained, geometric compositions for which he is known, these canvases present crudely drawn figures against dark, roughly painted backgrounds.

CARLOS RUNCIE TANAKA: FRAGMENTO

Art that comments on its own medium and art that comments on political events are often assigned to separate categories, attracting different audiences, different kinds of critical responses, different ways of looking.

JONATHAN GAMS (1951-2009)

When Jon Gams, proprietor of Hard Press Editions, died on November 7th at the age of 57, the world of independent publishing lost one of its most notable figures. It may take some time, but one day the contribution that Jon made to contemporary art and literature will be more widely recognized.

Renewable Energy for Criticism

For too long, perhaps, we art critics have chastised ourselves, honoring the great achievements of the past only to discount the present state of our beleaguered practice. There are many good reasons for this attitude, many high marks of understanding, prescience, influence, and revelation that we can compare to subsequent moments of diminished powers.

SVEN LUKIN

Until this exhibition I had never seen a work by Sven Lukin, an artist who began showing in New York in the early 1960s and was widely recognized at the time for his innovative painting-sculpture hybrids.

“The Poetics of Wattage, after Alighiero e Boetti”
ALIGHIERO BOETTI Game Plan

Once a year this poem / will be temporarily transformed / from a self-descriptive exercise / written in the plainest language / into something altogether different

Bernard Piffaretti

Until this current show at Lisson, French painter Bernard Piffaretti hadn’t had a solo exhibition in New York since 2002 (at Cheim and Read). That’s 17 years ago. Far, far too long a time to pass without seeing the work of an artist who is one of the great painters of his generation (born in 1955).

Harriet Korman: Permeable/Resistant

When asked how she starts one of her recent quadrant-based paintings, Harriet Korman replies that her first step is to “find the center.” She does so without the assistance of any measuring device, relying solely on her hand and eye to determine the point from which she will begin building out her right-angled bands of color.

ROLAND FLEXNER

First paradox: that real events produce unreal spaces, i.e., fluid dynamics of various substances, guided by the artist, result in images of sheer fantasy, views onto imaginary landscapes.

L’École de 8 Rue Saint-Victor

I’m writing these lines in late September just a few hours after learning that Shirley Jaffe died in Paris at the age of ninety-two. Last week, knowing that she had little time left, I flew to France to see her one last time.

Bartleby on Carmine Street

When I started renting movies from Evergreen Video it occupied the second story of a dilapidated building on West Houston Street. On the ground floor was Martin’s Bar and Grill, a tenebrous and seedy drinking establishment that seemed like a relic of some earlier version of downtown Manhattan, even thought at the time—the early 1990s—there were still many such survivals: Italian bakeries, Irish bars, Portuguese groceries, Puerto Rican bodegas, second-hand bookstores run by ash-sprinkled Jewish men who often reminded me of my father, miniscule record stores dedicated to particular genres or eras, boutiques whose stocks of clothes hadn’t been updated since the early 1970s.

On the Current Symbolic Status of Oil

As Duncan Smith notes toward the end of “On the Current Symbolic Status of Oil,” the essay was written during the Iran Hostage Crisis, that’s to say 1979–1980. It’s always helpful to know when a text was composed but in this case the dating is crucial: Smith’s virtuosic ode to oil in all its cultural, psychological and political ramifications was written in the midst of an energy crisis when, as a result of the U.S. halting oil imports from Iran, there was a panic that led to the doubling of oil prices and long lines at gas stations around the country.

Accordion Chamber Music

you've lived like the Argo

seven

Raphael Rubinstein is the author of The Miraculous (Paper Monument, 2014) and A Geniza (Granary Books, 2015). He is currently writing a book about the Jewish-Egyptian writer Edmond Jabès. A Professor of Critical Studies at the University of Houston School of Art, he divides his time between Houston and New York.

Illusion is a Gangstergirl

Illusion is a gangstergirl the sensitive killer’s tattoo spelled out

Five Poems

Drunk in the next room screaming/”I’m going blind” every night…

Accordion Chamber Music

(four short movements after Max Beckmann’s The Argonauts)

1. [Greenwich Village, SoHo, Harlem]

The classmate of a 15-year-old New Yorker cuts school to hang out in Greenwich Village for the day.

2. [NoHo, SoHo, Queens, Hudson River Piers]

The first section of the eight-story, 103-year-old hotel collapsed at 5:10 pm on a Friday afternoon in August

3. [Battery Park City]

A 13-year-old girl and her parents survive the 50-day siege of Budapest by the Soviet Army

4. [Washington Heights]

Apart from brief excursions into the subway or the city’s parks, this artist shoots her videos entirely in her home

5. [SoHo, Broadway, and various other points]

At the age of 25 a young man leaves his native Japan for New York to pursue musical studies with a charismatic avant-garde jazz percussionist.

6. [Downtown, West 57th Street]

During the summer of 1953 while New York City is suffering through a record-breaking heat wave, a 55-year-old artist known for her superb drawing skills (honed during years working alongside a famed European modernist) tosses aside pencil and pen for a new technique: making ink rubbings of the city under her feet.

7. [Lower Broadway]

It’s the mid-1970s. A young abstract painter who has moved to New York from Southern California finds a studio near City Hall on Lower Broadway.

8. [Chelsea]

In the Chelsea townhouse where she has been living and working since the late 1950s an artist now in her 90s returns again and again to the subject that has obsessed her for decades

9. [Lower East Side]

It’s the evening of October 22, 1962 and President Kennedy has just announced in a televised address “that it shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.”

10. [Brooklyn Heights]

The year that Marilyn Monroe marries Joe DiMaggio, that Elvis Presley releases “That’s All Right,” that the first mass polio vaccinations begin, that Frank O’Hara publishes his prose poem “Meditations in an Emergency”

11. (Harlem)

Troubled by a remark recently made to her by a social worker—that avant-garde art doesn’t have anything to do with black people—an artist conceives of a conceptual project that will engage New York City’s African-American community. To this end she enters a float in the African American Day parade, a Harlem procession that occurs every September along Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard.

12. (Chelsea, Fifth Avenue)

It’s the summer of 2016. A gallery on West 20th Street offers its space for a month to a political action committee started by two artists. The show features art works that will be diffused as billboards and advertisements to engage voters in the November election.

13. (Meat Packing District)

A young artist enters a museum on the opening day of a biennial exhibition of contemporary art. He makes his way to one work in the show, a well-known painter’s depiction of a murdered 14-year-old boy lying in a coffin. Inspired by an infamous 1955 lynching, the painting is titled Open Casket.

14. (NoHo)

After being stranded in Japan throughout the Second World War, during which he survives the 1943 firebombing of Tokyo (for the rest of his life whenever he sees something that has been burned he mistakes it for a human body), a Korean artist returns home to join the faculty of a new university fine art department.

15. (East Village, Union Square)

At 2:50 AM on a September night in 1983 a 25-year-old artist is arrested by NYPD Transit Police for writing graffiti in the First Avenue station of the L Train. When police officers bring him, bound at the ankles and with an elastic strap running hog-tie-style from his hands to his feet, into the Union Square Police Station they decide that he is mentally disturbed and must be transferred to Bellevue Hospital.

16. (Tribeca)

A French sculptor who has moved to the United States immerses himself in the New York art world. Before long he acquires a network of fellow artists, a loft in what was then a desolate neighborhood below Canal Street, and a respected gallery to exhibit and, with luck, sell his work.

17. (The East Village, the Subway)

A Brazilian artist in his early 30s relocates to New York where he furnishes his East Village apartment with mattresses that he surrounds with sheer fabric hangings. Soon it becomes a haven for experiments in art-making, love-making, drug-taking and gender-fucking.

18. (Chelsea)

One windy day in the mid-1990s, less than ten years after leaving the Soviet Union for life in the West, a husband-and-wife artist team grab a video camera and descend from their studio into the mostly deserted streets of Chelsea.

19. (The East Village, Queens)

Of this artist’s early years there is very little happiness to be reported and the same is true of the years—what few there were—that followed

20. (Canal Street)

When he dies of a drug overdose at 33 during a vacation in the Maldives, a German artist, lately resident in New York, leaves behind in his Düsseldorf studio a sequence of 40 aluminum panels painted in bands of red, yellow and black.

21. (Downtown)

A young artist full of admiration for Mark Rothko and abstraction in general is unsatisfied with her own paintings because they don’t seem to address the pressing problems in the world around her.

22. (The East Village and Points Beyond)

A poet living in the East Village launches a write-in campaign for the 1992 Presidential Election. Promising to turn all her “upcoming art events, readings and performances until election day into political events,” she folds her campaign into the tour of a one-woman show titled “Leaving New York” that takes her to 28 States.

23. (Midtown, Times Square, Washington Square Park, Madison Square Garden)

Over the course of nine consecutive days in 2005, an artist stages performances at nine different sites around the city. At each location she holds up a handmade protest sign, usually carrying a slogan from a past protest, though her intention is not to re-create historic events. Instead, she freely transposes slogans and sites.

24. (Park Avenue)

An artist makes a painting based on a screenshot of an Instagram post. In the post (and in the painting) we can see a young woman apparently being prepared for a photo shoot or a television appearance.

25. (SoHo)

In a neighborhood that decades before was home to countless artists and galleries but has long since been dominated by pricey condos and showrooms for global luxury brands, worry over impending anti-racism protests convinces most businesses in the area, already reeling from a pandemic, to board up every inch of their storefronts with plywood.

26. (The Museum of Modern Art, The Brooklyn Museum)

On a trip to New York in the late 1960s, a 20-year-old Chilean woman who is equally drawn to art and to poetry visits the Museum of Modern Art.

27. (Ridge Street, Attorney Street, South Bronx)

A young graffiti artist creates an elaborate series of tags on the wall of a handball court on the Lower East Side. His mentor, a poet-playwright who learned the craft of writing while serving a sentence for armed robbery in Sing Sing, admires the graffiti so much that he urges a painter friend to immortalize it on a canvas.

28. (A series of telephone booths in Midtown Manhattan, several addresses in the East Village and an unidentified location in the Bronx)

A poet in his late 20s begins to feel too restrained by his medium. Looking at a sheet of paper on his writing desk, he sees it as a plan-view of a house and realizes that he wants to escape the page, escape the house, go out into the street and leave the paper and poetry behind.

29. (Saint Marks Place)

Having achieved by his early 30s far more success than he could have reasonably hoped for when he first arrived in New York as a Midwest college dropout—his byline appears regularly in the Times and the Village Voice and he has published several well-received poetry collections—a poet-art critic decides that it’s time to choose: poetry or art criticism.

30. (Harlem, Flushing Meadows)

In 1928, a writer living at 119 West 131St Street publishes an essay that includes the sentence, “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.”

31. (27 Cooper Square)

A couple, both writers, and two of their friends move into a cold-water rooming house that has been abandoned for the previous decade. They install heat and hot water in the four-story building. They edit a literary magazine in their kitchen.

32. (A six-story building on Cooper Square)

The year this painter and his wife, who is also a painter, move into their Cooper Square loft, he is hired by an art school in Philadelphia. Unwilling to leave New York, he spends part of the week teaching in Philadelphia and the rest of his time painting in his studio. He realizes early on that it is going to take him a long time to get his work to where he wants it to be.

33. (10 Cooper Square, 5 Cooper Square)

One evening in the mid-1950s a painter invites a sculptor friend over for drinks. As the two men sit in the painter’s studio, they notice music coming from a bar across the street. Intrigued, they walk over to see what’s happening.

34. (27 Cooper Square)

Soon after moving with her husband and son into an apartment previously occupied by a radical sax player and his family, a painter decides it’s time to abandon the elaborate sculptural work she has been making and return to painting in oil on stretched canvases.

35. (48 Cooper Square)

After resigning from a teaching position in San Francisco, a painter moves back to New York and takes a third-floor studio where one of his first paintings is a large canvas dominated by a textured red ground encroached on by jagged shapes of orange, brown and black.

36. (West 43rd Street)

In the winter of 1936, an American Artists’ Congress Against War and Fascism is held at two venues, Town Hall and the New School. Over the course of three days, some 34 speakers address the hundreds of attendees.

37. (West 8th Street)

In September 1936, a painting is included in a show at the A.C.A Gallery of honorable mentions from a contest sponsored by the American Artists’ Congress. The canvas depicts a thronging torchlight protest march on an unidentified Manhattan avenue.

38. (Williamsburg, Pier 88)

In July 1937, the government declares that all artists employed by the Works Progress Administration must be citizens of the United States. Among the people who are thus disqualified from receiving aid are two young painters, one from Russia, the other from Holland.

39. (Times Square, Columbus Circle, Union Square)

One Wednesday afternoon in the fall of 1938, eight artists set up their easels at New York City’s busiest intersections and began to paint posters intended to publicize a campaign to fund a relief ship to Spain whose government is battling a fascist coup.

40. (330 West 42nd Street)

Some eight months before the country enters the Second World War, two New York comic-book artists create a flashy super-hero who vigorously defends the United States against all enemies. In the first issue he is shown beating up no one less than Adolf Hitler.

41. (322 Seventh Avenue)

Since discovering her allergy to oil paint an artist is driven to experiment with all manner of alternatives.

42. (5 West 21st Street)

A painter recently arrived from San Francisco where he socialized far more with poets than with other artists moves into a 4th-floor walk-up near the Flatiron Building. There he begins to build up areas of his abstract paintings with thick clumps of color.

43. (407 Greenwich Street, 105 Hudson Street, 260 Elizabeth Street)

The year is 1978 and two young New York artists (one British, the other American) are supporting themselves by doing construction work.

44. (Washington Market, Lower East Side)

After stints as the staff photographer for SNCC and riding with a midwest motorcycle club, a young photo-journalist finds himself back in his native New York City where he learns of plans to demolish some 60 blocks of historic buildings, many of them dating back to the Civil War and before.

45. (568 Broadway, Hoboken)

For her second solo show at this SoHo gallery (the first consisted of nothing more than 29 pieces of detritus she had collected near her studio in Hoboken), an artist introduces not a single object into the space, which has recently been expanded and renovated by a world-famous architect known for his subtle touch.

46. (West 22nd Street)

In 1982, an artist initiates the ambitious project of planting 7,000 oak trees next to an equal number of roughly-hewn basalt stone columns throughout a German city that had been heavily bombed during the Second World War.

47. (Madison Square Park)

An artist transports several dozen dead or dying Atlantic white cedar trees from the Pine Barrens of New Jersey to Madison Square Park in Manhattan.

48. (Houston Street and LaGuardia Place)

An artist convinces the City of New York to permanently set aside a 200-by-45-foot parcel of land on the southern edge of Greenwich Village so that he can re-create the habitat of Manhattan Island as it was before the first European colonialists arrived.

49. (Bedford-Stuyvesant)

When a global pandemic breaks out and international travel is curtailed, a Japanese artist who lives part of the year in New York finds herself unable to make a planned return to her native land.

50. (Central Park)

Inspired by his discovery of tantric mandalas and believing that Western traditions put too much faith in subjectivity and the creative unconscious, an artist turns to mathematics and systems. For one of his best-known series he begins with photographs he has taken of trees in Central Park.

51. (Both Banks of the Hudson River)

Following the destruction of the World Trade Center towers an artist turns his attention toward the distant past of New York City, specifically to initial encounters between the region’s indigenous Lenape people and early Dutch colonialists.

52. (New York’s Waterways)

Upon graduating from art school, a young artist attends a boat-building school in Northern California. When she moves to New York City a few years later she puts her newly-acquired nautical skills to use by building a small boat capable of circumnavigating Manhattan.

53. (The Shoreline of the South Bronx)

After learning that the New York City Parks Commission oversees some 30,000 acres of public parkland, an artist its outraged to discover the existence of a century-old law that makes it illegal to grow or to pick edible plants on any of this land.

54. (The East River)

Shortly before dawn after plying themselves with copious amounts of rum an artist and a friend set out from Long Island City for Belmont Island, a 100-by-200 foot rocky outcropping in the East River near the United Nations Headquarters.

55. (Gansevoort Peninsula)

Invited to visit a newly built museum before it opens to the public, an artist is more taken with the view of the nearby Hudson River than with the museum itself.

56. (The West Side Highway)

On December 15, 1973, an 80-foot-long section of the elevated highway that runs along the western edge of Manhattan collapses under the weight of a dump truck, plunging the truck, and a passenger car behind it, to the street below. The drivers of both vehicles survive. Ironically, the dump truck is loaded with asphalt intended to repair the dilapidated road. Subsequent inspections reveal that the expressway is in a dangerous state of neglect. For the safety of the public, the entire route is closed to traffic and slated for demolition.

57. (The Bowery)

A French artist who has decided to make his home in New York is sitting at a table in his Bowery studio. In front of him are his favored materials: a small tray containing a mixture of soap and India ink, some sheets of paper none larger than 5.5 by 7 inches and a hollowed-out Chinese paintbrush. He dips one end of the paintbrush into the ink-and-soap concoction and sucks a small amount of the liquid into the straw-like tool. By slowly exhaling he blows a bubble at the end of the brush.

58. (Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx)

Provided with a generous grant from a private foundation an artist creates a realistic, larger-than-life-size marble sculpture of her and her life-partner embracing in bed, naked except for a sheet artfully draped across their midsections. The pose is inspired by Le Sommeil, Courbet’s scandalous painting of lesbian reverie, which itself was inspired by Baudelaire’s equally scandalous poem, “Femmes Damnées (Delphine et Hippolyte).”

59. (Coney Island, 42nd Street, the Meatpacking District, among other locations)

Deserted by his parents at a young age, subjected to abuse by his supposed caregivers, a New Jersey teenager finally has no option but to drop out of school and run away to New York City where he survives, barely and dangerously, as a street hustler. Now in his mid-20s and trying to make his way as an artist he embarks on a project that takes him back to many of the locations where he used to sell his body for sex: “the places I had hung out in as a kid,” he later explains, “the places I starved in or haunted.”

60. (Pier 34, Hudson River)

One day a man in his late 20s who has still not “found himself” in the world hears about some unusual activities on an abandoned Hudson River pier a few blocks from his home. Apparently artists have been sneaking into the vast decaying structure and filling it with unauthorized murals and sculptures. Curious, and a little nervous (trespassing is a crime, after all, and in early 1980s New York wandering around an abandoned pier is not a particularly safe thing to do), he finds himself one afternoon stepping through a broken-into entryway and penetrating into a vast decrepit domain.

61. (SoHo, Lower East Side)

On vacation with his parents in New Mexico, a six-year-old boy runs away for the day and builds an “Indian fire pit” in Bandelier National Monument, an area renowned for its ancient ruins of Pueblo cliff dwellings.

62. (Midtown)

An artist ties himself to the door of a 24-hour Chase Bank ATM across the street from Grand Central Terminal wearing only a hula skirt made from 1-dollar bills and a pair of boots. Originally he planned to bind himself to the door with a chain, but worried about the legal consequences of “impinging on their property in some, quote, terrorist sense,” he opts instead for an eight-foot-long string of Italian sausages.

63. (Various locations)

An artist who starts off as a painter finds herself thinking more and more about the space in front of the wall than about the surface of the canvas. Moving to New York after grad school she is unable to afford a studio and must make her work in a small apartment.

64. (Fulton Street, Chinatown, West Broadway, Eldridge Street)

After graduating from art school in Los Angeles, an aspiring artist, who hasn’t yet committed herself to any particular medium, uses insurance money from a car accident to bankroll a move to New York City. To make these funds last until she can find a job, she stays with a series of friends and acquaintances.

65. (SoHo)

“A sensitive organization of lines and colors on a canvas must have ultimate social value,” writes an artist in the early 1940s. Some 30 years later a former student of his gets his first solo show at the age of 32. For the exhibition, the artist, who lately has been spending more and more time making music, dumps in the middle of a SoHo gallery a tangle of wires and light fixtures.

71. (The Studio Museum in Harlem)

An artist gives a museum lecture in the guise of Dr. Zira, the chimpanzee/psychologist character from the 1968 movie Planet of the Apes.

72. (Various walls around the city)

One day in 1986, more than a dozen years after Shirley Chisholm, Barbara Jordan, Yvonne Brathwaite Burke and Cardiss Collins have been elected to Congress, a group of artists, activists and art historians who keep their identities secret by donning gorilla masks surreptitiously plaster the walls of the city with a poster noting, in thick sans serif type: “Only 4 Commercial Galleries in N.Y. Show Black Women. Only 1 Shows More Than 1.”

73. (Various museums and galleries)

A group of artists, gallery owners, and museum employees issue a call for museums and art galleries in New York City to close for one day as an act of protest against a war the U.S. is conducting in a faraway country. The Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum and the Jewish Museum, plus many art galleries, comply with this request. Only two major museums decline, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (which does, however, delay the opening of an exhibition for one day) and the Guggenheim Museum, which is then picketed.

74. (402, 404 & 414 East 14th Street)

An artist organizes a group exhibition in the loft building where he lives. For his own contribution he drills a small hole through the wall into the church next door. His plan is to drop a microphone through the hole and pipe the sounds from the church into the exhibition space, but when he enters the church and sees that his drilling has left a small pile of plaster on the floor, he has second thoughts. He is afraid that his act will be seen as an attack on the Catholic Church. Instead, he drills a hole in the wall on the other side of his building so that his microphone can pick up the everyday sounds of a beauty salon.

75. (Pier 18, Hudson River)

An artist and her friend are helping install an exhibition of experimental works on an abandoned Lower West Side pier. The women involved in the show are working hard, but the artists whose projects are being shown are all men. It’s the early 1970s. Walking home at night through the empty streets of Downtown Manhattan the two friends feel safer making loud noises, singing off-key and generally pretending to be crazy. One night they find themselves improvising bird sounds based on the first name of the organizer of the exhibition. This impromptu performance develops into a sound piece titled Birdcalls where the artist utters the surnames of 28 male artists in a variety of bird-like noises.

76. (The Brooklyn Museum)

At the sparsely attended opening of his first museum show in the United States, a German artist carries a 16-mm movie camera on his shoulder throughout the event. As people come up to congratulate him, he says almost nothing while pointing the camera at their faces. It’s unclear whether or not he is actually filming, but the camera effectively insulates him from his fans, however few they are.

77. (249 Lafayette Street, 57th Street)

At the age of 38 an Argentinian artist who has abandoned a law career to become a painter moves to New York City where he rents a studio in Little Italy and supports himself by working as a waiter at the Caffe Figaro on Bleecker Street. The same year he has his debut solo show in the city and moves his studio to 248 Lafayette Street. The following year he has his breakthrough idea of leaving the front of his paintings solid white and applying color only to the sides. When he shows one of his first “sides only” paintings at a 57th Street gallery, an art critic who visits the show climbs onto a chair to see if the top edge of work has also been painted. (It has.)

78. (416 East 55th Street)

A painter who was a USAAF bomber pilot during the Second World War recounts to two of his poet friends how on several occasions he flew a famous movie star around North Africa. His friends don’t believe him until one day in the early 1960s when the three of them get invited to a party for the launch of a book the actress has written. The two poets are delighted because they will finally be able to prove that their painter friend simply made up his connection to the glamorous star. As they walk into the private club where the party is taking place, they espy the actress seated at a circular banquet talking with several people. She looks up as they approach and the painter makes a small hand gesture, the slightest of waves. She immediately responds with a smile and calls out to him by name and with a big “How are you?” His friends are so shocked he thinks they are may pass out.

80. (Brighton Beach; Plainfield, New Jersey; 11 West 53rd Street)

After her father is killed in an anti-Semitic pogrom, an 8-year-old girl emigrates with her mother from the Ukraine to New York City. It’s only long after, at the age of 45, that she begins to paint, using, among other materials and tools, enamel paint and glass pipettes from her husband’s costume jewelry business. Working with these unconventional means she develops a novel method of painting that involves dispersing fluid drips and pours of paint across the entire canvas. Her studio is a few square feet on the parquet floor of the Brighton Beach apartment she shares with her husband and son. Thanks in large part to the actions of her son, her work attracts the attention of several avant-garde refugees from Europe (two of whom pay visits to her in Brooklyn) and other people interested in “primitive” art.

81. Queens

During a residency in Queens in a former public school, a Korean artist trained as a painter finds herself responding in unexpected ways to the space she has been given to work in and the overwhelming sense of cultural and social strangeness she feels in New York.

82. Fifth Avenue

On September 1, 1966, a Brazilian-Swedish artist who has been living in New York for five years stages a performance on Fifth Avenue that involves himself, his wife and several friends carrying placards bearing enormous headshots of two famous figures, the American comedian Bob Hope and the Chinese leader Mao Tse Tung. In January of that year, Bob Hope’s “Vietnam Christmas Show” had aired on NBC. In May, Mao had launched the Cultural Revolution. As part of the performance, which is also filmed, a radio journalist asks spectators on Fifth Avenue if they are happy

83. 40 Wooster Street

In a SoHo gallery an artist props three old doors against one of the walls. Each door is painted a different color and each carries different signage. One announces an “Upper West Side Plant Project,” the second something called the ”N.Y. State Bureau of Tropical Conservation” and the third “The Department of Marine Animal Identification of the City of New York (Chinatown Division).”

84. Bond Street

Having studied at three different art schools, a 24-year-old artist moves to New York where he begins to spend two to three hours a day writing out numbers on graph paper, starting at 1 and aiming for infinity. When ideas for art works come to him he incorporates them into his counting process, either by inserting a drawing into his columns of numbers or by signing his paintings and sculpture not with his name but with whatever number he has reached when he completes them.

85. A Rooftop in SoHo

A British sculptor known for her casts of architectural spaces is invited to create a public artwork in New York City. After traversing the city in search of inspiration, she notices the “weird wooden barrel-like objects” that sit atop many Manhattan buildings.

86. The South Bronx

The mayor of New York City borrows a life-size fiberglass sculpture of a shirtless young man with a boombox and a basketball (he holds the ball under his left arm, while his right foot rests on the boombox) to place on the front lawn of his official residence on the occasion of presenting a filmmaker renowned for his depictions of everyday urban life with the keys to the city.

87. East Village, SoHo, Midtown

On November 5, 1969, a Saturday, an artist living at 340 East 13th Street, gets out of bed at 17 minutes after noon. Using rubber stamps, he notes this fact on a postcard that he mails to an art critic living at 138 Prince Street.

88. A Hotel (now demolished) at Fifth Avenue and Eighth Street

A husband and wife, both artists, both Mexican, are living in an apartment at the Hotel Brevoort in Greenwich Village. Following the politically motivated censorship of a mural commission the husband has been working on at 30 Rockefeller Center, he is frustrated to learn that two other major U.S. commissions have been cancelled.

89. 2 Fifth Avenue

Before moving into a new apartment building overlooking Washington Square Park, a photographer and his wife, both Hungarian émigrés, go through every apartment in the still-unoccupied building to find the ideal vantage point for the photographs the husband plans to take.

90. 2 Fifth Avenue, 131 West 15th Street, 200 and 220 West 21st Street

Some six years after the death of his beloved wife from cancer, a photographer asks his assistant to finally take apart his late spouse’s bed. After all, he is nearly 90 and it’s time to put his life in order. In the course of disassembling the bed, the assistant comes upon some boxes of enigmatic black-and-white photographs—many of them depicting old disjointed dolls, possibly happened upon at flea markets or deliberately posed in a studio, it’s impossible to know—credit stamped with a woman’s name.

91. SoHo

In the midst of the AIDS crisis, an artist exhibits a small teddy bear wearing a T-shirt that reads “Someday I will make a Cubist painting but right now it doesn’t seem important.”

92. Fort Greene

Two young artists, one of whom has traveled by subway from his home in Manhattan, are in a small one-room Brooklyn apartment writing a dialogue on a typewriter. While one of them is typing, the other sits on a bed, waiting for his turn.

93. 404 East 14th Street

A young couple (he is a sculptor, she has given up painting to help her husband by sewing his cloth and vinyl sculptures) find themselves living in a very noisy building. To ensure that they can always get a good night’s sleep they build three bedrooms in their loft.

94. West 53rd Street

A 23-year-old Brazilian artist makes his first trip to New York. During a visit to the Museum of Modern Art he falls into a conversation with a woman about the paintings of Jackson Pollock. So inspiring is this conversation, and his discovery of Pollock’s art, that two months later he moves from São Paulo to New York. Within a few years he has launched a successful career by using unusual materials to make drawings based on black-and-white photographs.

95. 24 University Place, A Restaurant in Chinatown

A young artist frequents the Cedar Bar where he drinks with older painters he admires. It’s there that he meets and befriends an artist who gives him a piece of advice he never forgets.

96. A second-floor gallery on Mercer and Prince Street, a studio in a former synagogue on Hester Street

At the age of 31, an artist walks into a SoHo gallery containing only a single work—a 35-foot-long abstract painting—and begins to feel almost physically sick. He has been deeply affected by the political movements of the previous decade (feminism, civil rights, war protests) and realizes that he doesn’t want to go on making big paintings. He can’t stand the thought of one of his paintings ending up in a bank lobby or even in a museum.

97. Greenpoint

An artist who grew up not far from Disneyland moves from Southern California to New York where he finds a cheap apartment in Greenpoint and a job at a framing shop. It’s the mid-1980s and the city seems like a rough place filled with a lot of obnoxious people. He wonders whether the problem is that New Yorkers never get to see the night sky.

98. The Lower East Side (mostly)

After the suicide of her older sister, a 11-year-old girl decides that she will never let another memory vanish. She begins taking photographs of everyone she knows, firm in the belief that by photographing them she will never lose them.

99. Various locations around Manhattan; the Hudson River

In the summer of 1975, a 25-year-old Belgian filmmaker and her cinematographer shoot footage of Manhattan’s streets and subways for a 90-minute color film. On an intermittent voiceover, the filmmaker reads (in French) from letters her mother has sent her. They are filled with typical parental concern: How is her job?

100. East 19th Street near Union Square

Speaking in her studio at the age of 100, a Cuban-born artist who has lived mostly in New York for the past 75 years, nearly all of it in obscurity (she was 89 before she finally sold one of her geometric constructions, and survived until then only thanks to her husband’s salary and pension as a public-school teacher) reflects on the museum attention that has come her way over the last two years: “They say, ‘If you wait for the bus, the bus will come.’ I waited 98 years for the bus to come.”

1. Munich, 1970

This 21-year-old Japanese musician has been wandering through Europe supporting himself (barely) as a busker. He has played and sung on the streets of Sweden, Denmark, Germany and France. In winter, when the weather turns too cold for outdoor performances, he finds work in restaurants or on farms. Although his musical skills are limited, he is able attract attention.

2. Los Angeles, 1969

Born in New Orleans to a Baptist minister and his wife, this woman has been singing professionally since the age of 14. Now living in L.A. and well into a pregnancy, she gets a call one night from a producer friend who is desperately in need of a backup singer for a recording session with some visiting English musicians. At first, she refuses—it’s almost midnight, she’s pregnant, and already in bed—but at last she agrees and a car is dispatched to pick her up.

3. New York, 2002

After failing first as a singer and then as a drummer, a 31-year-old DJ starts a band with his closest friends. He exposes himself to ridicule and risks disappointment with their debut single, a confessional monologue about growing older in a younger music scene. The group’s first album is released to critical acclaim.

4. Provincetown, 1966

A band with a one-armed drummer scores a hit record with a song about its one-armed drummer.

5. Weybridge, England 1968

On a weekend when his wife is away, a musician invites an artist he has just met to his house. Retiring to the home studio he has built in his attic, the two of them, who as yet barely know each other, spend the night experimenting with tape loops and wordless vocalizations, creating a dense recording of muffled piano and guitar punctuated with warbles, screeches, moans and assorted noises.

6. 1955, Los Angeles

A Spanish-language parody of the TV theme “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” becomes an unexpected hit, especially in a subsequent English version that sells some 500,000 copies. This is a departure for the musician who a few years earlier had provided the soundtrack for the Pachuco subculture with recordings like “Marihuana Boogie” and “El Pachuco.”

7. January 7, 1955, the Metropolitan Opera House, New York

The first African American to sing a leading role with the Metropolitan Opera is cast as Ulrike in Verdi’s Un ballo in mascara. A century earlier when the opera debuted in Italy, the composer was compelled by censors to repeatedly change the setting, first from Sweden to Poland, then from Poland to the United States, specifically to Boston.

8. March 4, 1955, Broadway just above West 52nd Street

A quintet (sax, trumpet, piano, bass, drums) led by a legendary saxophonist is booked for two nights at a midtown jazz club. The first evening gets off to a bad start when the piano player, who has a long history of alcoholism and mental health problems, tells the sax player, who himself has struggled with heroin addiction, “You ain’t playing shit no more.”

9. November and December, 1955, Paris

A German composer, who was deported from the United States seven years earlier for being, as one right-wing politician put it, “the Karl Marx of music,” is hired by a French director to score a documentary film about the Holocaust. From Paris, he writes home to his wife in East Berlin: “The film is grandiose, horrible, showing monstrous crimes...regrettably, the film people here are putting me under pressure to finish the whole thing in ten days even though the film is barely finished.

10. 1955, Paris; 2016, Bregenz, Austria

A museum on the Austrian shore of Lake Constance invites a Scottish sound artist to create a new work. The project she conceives of involves making recordings of five different instruments performing passages from the soundtrack to an early Holocaust documentary. On each of the museum’s four floors, a single instrument can be heard: a bass clarinet on the ground floor, a clarinet on the first floor, a horn on the third and a violin on the fourth.

66. (Brownsville, Midtown Manhattan, Tribeca)

The New York years of this “sound artist” as he sometimes calls himself (declining the monikers “musician” or “composer”) begin in Brooklyn, the borough of his birth. He remembers how when he went to high school he was advised, “don’t tell them you’re from Brooklyn, they will think you’re an idiot.” Musically gifted and growing up in a Jewish community in the Brownsville neighborhood, he begins to sing in synagogue choirs, often during services that run for hours at a time.

67. (Harrison Street, Tribeca)

On a Saturday afternoon four weeks before her solo exhibition is scheduled to open at one of the most prestigious galleries in New York—it will be her first show with this gallery—an artist decides she would like to start some morning glory flowers in the window boxes outside her third-floor apartment. As she steps onto one of the window boxes it gives way and she falls three stories to a parking lot below. Immobile but still conscious, she wonders whether, as a tough New Yorker, her predicament justifies screaming for help. She decides it does, and calls out. “We’ve already called an ambulance,” someone tells her.

68. (60 Hudson Street, Tribeca)

As the third wave of a deadly pandemic crashes through the nation, a painter sets up a storefront studio in a landmarked Lower Manhattan building that has served as a communications hub for nearly a century. Surrounded by stacks of folded cloth, she is visible through the window to passersby as she works with a pair of scissors and a sewing machine, cutting up and stitching together fragments of curtains, bedsheets, dish towels, women’s suits, embroidered tablecloths, brocade upholstery, scarves, men’s long sleeve shirts, knitted blankets and countless other remnants from the realm of everyday textiles.

69. (Lower West Side)

On an overcast day in 1993 an artist arranges some scraps of wood and bits of water-logged litter next to a concrete Jersey barrier being used to block off an empty expanse of asphalt on Manhattan’s West Side. In the photograph he takes of this casual-looking arrangement, which seems to rise from a puddle left by a recent rainstorm, we can see in the distance a swath of the New York City skyline.

70. (Corner Lispenard & Church Streets, North Tower of the World Trade Center)

It’s early on a Tuesday autumn morning and a sixty-two-year-old painter is standing in front of his home conversing with a neighbor and some firemen who have arrived to investigate a reported gas leak on the block. About a mile away a thirty eight-year-old sculptor who was working so late the day before he decided to spend the night in his studio on the ninety-second floor of a skyscraper is probably still asleep.

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The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2022

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