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Dorota Kenderová, Jan Nálevka, Timea Anita Oravecz, Honza Zamojski:

SEEING NEW YORK

curated by Marco Antonini

From September 16 to November 12, 2010. Czech Center New York. 321 E 73rd St.

Partners: Center Sztuki Współczesnej Zamek Ujazdowski, SPACE Gallery, The Studio of Young Artists.

Special thanks to: Ondrej Stupal, Marek Milde, Jan Zahour and all CCNY Staff.

PRESS RELEASE 

Louis Thomas Hardin (1916-1999; a.k.a. “Moondog”, a.k.a “The Viking of 6th Avenue”) was a musician and poet with a penchant for dressing up in leather boots, draped cloaks and horned helmets. Hardin was not a homeless, but chose to live his life in the streets, taking in the city as pure experience. Blind and hailing from Kansas, he did not know much about New York City, but nonetheless felt its vibes, smelled its perfumes (and stench) and listened carefully to its sounds. Moondog started experimenting with musical composition and invented instruments around the late 1940s. He was befriended by stars like Benny Goodman and Arturo Toscanini, as well as by young musicians like Philip Glass and Steve Reich. He quickly became a cult figure, eventually recording his proto-minimalist compositions for major record labels, before permanently relocating to Germany.

Repeated in dozens of different, scarcely documented and chronically incomplete versions in which fact and folklore probably coexist, Hardin’s absolutely true story is nowadays a de-facto urban myth. In a city where transience and constant renewal (together with a complex blend of real and imaginary social mobility) are constantly in the way of historical self-reflection, such “legends” are important. At the same time, reality-based urban folklore[1] also ossifies in well-traveled and relayed preconceptions and stereotypes, hence the widely reported feelings of familiarity with New York shared by so many first-time visitors.

When I first started discussing this exhibition project with the artists, we all agreed on trying to develop on their personal understanding of the City, trying to map and analyze the state of their preconceptions before, during and after their visit. In our emails, New York was often referred to as “experience,” and considered from the particular standpoint of uninformed first-time visitors and their limited experience. As this goes to print, two of the artists involved in the project have been here for just a few weeks, two other have spent a couple of months and I, the curator, have been struggling with my own idea of what “Seeing New York,” might mean for the past seven years. The situation resonates in this anecdote, unsurprisingly lifted from a book titled New York City Folklore:

                  … Three gentlemen from South America … called one day on Mayor O’Dwyer. [2] The Mayor was born and raised in Ireland – and has the Irish gift of easy conversation, and he studied in Spain and speaks Spanish beautifully. So he made pleasant conversation with the gentlemen from South America.

And How Long, He asked, did they intend to stay in New York?
“A week,” said the man from Bogotá.
“Fine!” said the Mayor. “New York is a wonderful city, and undoubtedly you will manage to see all of it.”
The traveler from Carácas said that he meant to stay for a month.
“Good,” said the Mayor. “I am sure that you will see most of the things you should.”
Then the man from Buenos Aires declared that he had fallen in love with New York, and intended to live here forever.
“Ah, then,” said the Mayor, “I am afraid that you never will see New York at all!”[3]

The artworks in “Seeing New York” range from subtle reflections and quotations to powerful and imaginative gestures, addressing different aspects of the New York experience and their conceptual implications via sharp variations in tone and style. These variations are informed by the artists’ diverse personalities and backgrounds, but also by the different amounts of time that they spent in the City and previous (real or imagined) knowledge of its socio-cultural context. We all agreed that “seeing” the real essence of New York, let alone give it a visual form, would have been patently impossible; so we decided not to try, and instead concentrated on first impressions, willingly accepting the influence of myth and stereotype. As Moondog taught us, certain things are better seen with your eyes closed.

Marco Antonini_

[1] …of which the famous “Alligators in the sewer” story (not a legend but a series of well documented news facts) offers a perfect example.

[2] William O’Dwyer (1890–1964), 100th Mayor of New York City. Holding his office from 1946 to 1960.

[3] In New York City Folklore, by B.A.Botkin (New York: Random House, 1956), 4. Quoted from Eleanor Early, New York Holiday (New York: Rineheart and Co., 1950).

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