It’s been a few months since I had been in New York City. I’d been told that it would be a good idea to get myself exposed to as much contemporary art as I could being that I was a sophomore and still new in my program. I hadn’t planned on joining any friends on the trip because I frankly didn’t know who was going. My planned four days in the big apple were intended to be alone in the crowd immersed in art and culture. I wanted to soak up as much as possible with no distractions. I’d been in overdrive getting ahead of work and finishing up projects for weeks in preparation so when the day finally came to leave I was slightly disappointed. Cincinnati had been experiencing some of the worst winter weather in history’ which is funny because that seems always to be the title streaming across our TV’s during the coldest season. UC had determined that it was unsafe to drive because they were afraid of us ‘getting stranded in snow’, of ‘black ice’ or ‘crashing’. You know. Minor things. They postponed the trip a day and so the next night the 50 or so of us that were signed up met in the atrium of DAAP. At midnight we all crowded onto the bus and headed out. I was thankful that id managed to sleep almost the entire time yet still managed to wake up just as we reached city limits. And if you ever have the fortune/displeasure of driving into New York I hope you experience as I did – it just keeps getting denser and denser. And the horizon is the city as far as you can see. It was one of the most fantastical things Id ever seen. It made me realize how small my hometown of Cincinnati was in comparison. It reaffirmed my convictions that I’d never choose to live in the city.
So we’re driving in around 9:00am and the urban jungle keeps growing around me. I’m sitting near the front of the bus and I can hear the strained voice of one of the professors as he was talking to our bus driver about which was the correct way to go (a large commercial vehicle can only make it down certain roads driving in). Though she was a really nice lady, I think she almost gave Professor T a heart attack. After a few missed turns and a few more face-palms we finally arrived at the Soho Hotel in Soho in lower Manhattan.
On the outside it seemed as ordinary as any other hotel in the area of the same price range. It was surrounded by the same array of custom lamp shops and just a short walk from Chinatown, little Italy, and this delicious candy store that would make custom flavored hard candies with endless taste samples. I would have bought some but the smallest skittles-bag sized portion was like 8 bucks. And I’m a penniless college student. The hotel itself was outlandishly furnished with purple walls in the lobby and large polished black leather furniture. My room contained three beds for the five of us – two twins and a single and kept with the unique style of the lobby. I didn’t know any of my roommates and they all pretty much had their own agendas. This was fine with me because it gave me time to re-access what I wanted to do that day. Because of the snow cancellation, our itinerary plans kind of went out the window as a school group. We were pretty much on our own to do whatever we wanted armed with our smart phones and a list of art galleries and museums to explore. The first day I wanted to check out Rachel de Jude’s work at a small gallery nearer the southern tip of Manhattan, both because she worked with ceramics and because I could walk there. Afterwards I would check out another ceramicist’s studio and then the New Museum. This was a great plan in my head but its very different navigating a city that large.
Quickly after I’d left my hotel, I’d gotten lost. Rachel de Jude’s Gallery had an address, which Id walked to but upon arrival couldn’t find the right building. I walked the same few blocks for three hours before I just started opening doors and walking into buildings. I’d seen her work before in my Intro to Contemporary Arts class and she’s a popular name around the Fine Arts department at UC so seeing it in person was very surreal. It provided for me scale, purpose and identity to art I’d previously had trouble fully appreciating. An idea I’ve been struggling with since I’d started out in the Fine Arts program, both with the art I produce and the art I come across. When do things become art? When does art have reach meaning or is meaning given? I left Rachel’s gallery and headed for the New Museum. The other Ceramics studio was on a street that had a lot of crime on it and it was starting to get dark. I’d brought my camera bag with me and I wasn’t too keen on walking that route first night of my trip and the New Museum was more or less right down the street from the Soho hotel. That building was floor after floor of wonder. Sure a few exhibits were more appealing than others but outside of personal taste, the New Museum gave me my first uninhibited look at what art could be. Of what art currently is today. Part of my struggle with art isn’t just ‘what to make’. For some reason it’s also ‘what am I allowed to make’? It’s identifying the difference between meeting requirements and providing innovation. I left the building feeling lifted and headed back the hotel to upload my photos and recollect the day.
The following morning I ran into some friends of mine who I hadn’t realized had come along on the trip. They were all walking out for breakfast and asked me to join. I found out as we were walking to the subway that we were going to Tom’s restaurant (for you Seinfeld fans). There are signed photographs of famous people eating in Tom’s booths plastering the walls. When we arrived, the place was packed in like sardines. And though they had to be operating beyond fire safety occupant capacity standards we got our food within 15 minutes. It was pretty good and not too badly price for NYC. Afterwards a bunch of folks split off and the final four of us headed for the Armory Show, which was my plan for the whole day.
The armory show was massive. Hundreds of artists displaying thousands of pieces worth just as much. For example I’d passed a painting with a sticker price of $78,000 and took a few cautionary steps away from it. My friends and I split up almost immediately as we swam through the river of people viewing the different galleries. I put my headphones in and played the artist ‘Emancipator’ while I took pictures of different pieces I found most interesting. This show was mostly paintings and smaller scale sculptural works though there were some creative new media pieces and others played with light and dimension. It was a whirlwind of inspiration. I spent three hours wandering the gallery aisles mostly looking for ceramic work, which was relatively sparse. I occasionally ran into other people from DAAP but we ultimately were lost in our own worlds and paid each other no mind. I’d made my whole way around the show and met back up with my friend Nina while we waited for the rest of the group.
We left caught a cab together and we were dropped off near by the Guggenheim. I wanted to check out the Metropolitan Museum of Art so I split off the group and walked through central park. This was an experience in of itself. It’d been snowing, rainy, icy and cold and so while I was dodging sleds and puddles I’d found myself needing to find a bathroom. So I walked into the men’s room in the middle of the park around 4 or 5 in the afternoon and there were three homeless men sitting in the each of the three stalls eating their lunch. I admit that it freaked me out and I immediately exited the bathrooms but it did make me think more about the homeless populations in NYC. The new museum was just down the street from our hotel but there were food kitchens strewn between the two points. These guys were eating lunch in a bathroom. If you’ve ever seen the garbage on NYC sidewalks having never been there, you’d be appalled. I was lucky enough to be holed up in a fancy hotel in NYC to go check out priceless art for 300 bucks for a weekend. These people are living on these sidewalks and eating sandwiches in bathroom stalls. Makes you appreciate the things you’ve got going in life. Food for thought.
Anyways I still needed to find an unoccupied bathroom so I kept on through the park and found the Metropolitan. I was determined to find a plethora of examples of pottery and ceramic art that I could pull from this trip and bring back for my personal inspiration. So I’d headed in and found my promised land. Though the works themselves were ancient, you really appreciate the pieces for what they are when you see them in person. That boring Byzantine ceramic vessel is suddenly a lot cooler to see and study in person rather than in my History of Art textbook. That Egyptian sculpture that’s 20 feet tall is actually now towering 20 feet over you in its captured state frozen in time. There was so much to look at and so much to record. I walked in circles until the museum closed.
Afterwards I headed to Uno’s Chicago style pizza back on the other side of central park and met back up with my friends. Blasphemy to any true New Yorker I’m sure. But the pizza was good, we all ordered drinks and enjoyed great company. We spent the dinner talking about the day’s experiences, debated and finally settled on the idea going to Time Square for the night. We took the subway back to the hotel to collect ourselves and get our things and headed back out. Popping out of the subway into time square is sensory overload. No movie has ever done it justice. If you’ve ever been to an EDM music festival you’ll find that Time Square rivals them in energy on a nightly basis. It was as if there was a party going on all night long on all the streets. It was borderline riotous. We walked along the walks and eventually found ourselves exploring, first the Hersey’s candy store, and then the M&M’s Store just across the street. Each was three stories of candy and the scent was deliciously toxic with chocolate fume. We were killing time mocking the $20 mugs and commenting on how much candy we wished we could buy. We were waiting to meet some friends at Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Co. Restaurant and they’d been taking their time taking the subway from the hotel to Time Square. We headed back out into the square and got some ice cream when finally the other group texted us saying they just sat down at Bubba Gump’s. So we circled the same block twice (missing it the first time) and headed up to order drinks. Luckily our inability to find the restaurant let our friends almost finish dinner. So we sat down and were just hanging out. I’d ordered two drinks for myself and everyone else ordered a round and it was a really fun time. We hung out for about an hour before we all debated how to spend our nights – partying in the hotel or finding a bar to go to. Most of the group were too young and couldn’t join us at the bars. If we wanted to stay in the hotel we’d have to find a liquor store but they’d closed hours prior. So three of us split off in search of a bar and the rest ended up going to sleep. It took us an hour of walking and debating but wed ended up settling on this tropical themed club with music that was way too loud and drinks that were mediocre at best. It was about a minute walk from the bar to our hotel and we were so thankful to finally not be on our feet walking. We seized the opportunity to sit down as soon those with reservations left.
The struggles of young people being young and stupid.
Too many rounds later the three of us walk back to the hotel and crash in my room that had been vacant all weekend. My should-be roommates had basically vanished since I’d arrived. The next morning the six of us met up again and staggered out to Max Brenner’s for breakfast. Max Brenner’s is a famous chocolatiers restaurant where chocolate is infused into every single item on the menu. I’d ordered choco-chilli breakfast fries, cocoa powder southern style omelet and a chocolate milk. It was mouthwatering. We’d taken account of our nights and poked fun at each other for each other’s respective hangovers. But the non-stop nature of the weekend had worn all the energy out of us. We were zombies.
We walked back from breakfast and decided next go to the New Museum because I’d been the only person to visit it so far. The rest of the group waited until the last day because our group got in for free on Sunday as a some kind of deal with the gallery. My friends walked around the lower floor exhibits and I spent most of my time on the top floor, which had been closed two days earlier. There was an observation deck and this strange audio recording performance piece set up with head phones talking about religion and politics and different artists who’d come through the gallery. The observation deck allowed a 180-degree view of the city and for great cityscape photography. No more than an hour and a half later we were all obviously drained and headed back to the hotel. In the lobby we rested and talked for a while until we decidedly went out in search of lunch. We walked to little Italy and found this delicious sandwich shop. I don’t even think the place had a name but they had authentic imported Italian cheeses and sausages hanging everywhere and they prepped our food on the most delicious fresh Italian bread. $11 and absolutely delicious – I’d ended up walking back to get a second for the bus ride home. We had about three hours by the time we sat down to eat our sandwiches. We could either attempt to take the subways out to see one last gallery and risk missing the bus home or call it a trip and just hang out in the lobby more. Our lack of sleep chose option two for us. We packed up our junk and waited outside for the bus who was expectedly late and on the wrong side of the road upon arrival. I slept the whole way back to Cincinnati
Reflecting upon this trip I’ve started to realize what is required of me as a professional artist and what level of focus and dedication is needed to be successful. It wasn’t about making supremely crafted work – that was just something expected. Something that you could get away with as a student but not as a professional. Most contemporary art seems to have some political, sexual or gender relevant message or the art ends up being about itself in some way. A reflection upon materials or maybe an over analysis of some subject matter. Its about giving things importance. Art is important because of what art is about, regardless of how simple or complex the idea is.