Heroes are all around us. At the frontline and behind the scenes.
My nurse friend’s healthcare worker mother from the Bronx who continued to take care of the patients during the pandemic, my COVID-19 survivor colleague, a virologist himself, who now dedicates his time in the lab to find a vaccine – are among hundreds of thousands of heroes here, in New York City.
Then there are other heroes from around the country: an aging and retired farmer from North East Kansas sent one of his five N95 masks left over from his farming days to save a nurse or a doctor when New York became the epicenter of COVID-19 infection and we didn’t have enough N95 masks to protect the healthcare workers taking care of the infected patients.
As I continued my solitary exploration of the reopened art galleries in lower Manhattan, I found another hero from behind the scenes – an artist named Ronald Vill.
Thomas Nickles Project at 47 Orchard St is exhibiting 28 limited edition prints carefully curated from 71 digital drawings created by Ronald Vill, who shares his intimate visual diary of enforced confinement from Havana, Cuba. The gallery is offering high-resolution downloads of all the images from this show for free or a pay-what-you-wish amount, with all proceeds going to the Global Giving’s Coronavirus Relief Fund!
Drawing inspirations from Sakura blossoms in Japanese culture, that represent renewal and optimism during the onset of Spring, the series of illustrations intertwining scenes of human lives with the flower, in both macroscopic and microscopic views, tell the story to combat the confinement and the fear of death. Ronald, in his illustrated diary, casts himself as El Zorro (the fox) and ironically represents the virus with Sakura flower that invades his life in unexpected ways.
The online exhibit on the gallery website includes a documentary film on the motivation and the artistic process of Ronald. Towards the last scene of the film, the audience face the question – how can an artist help to fight this pandemic? Thomas Nickles Project and Ronald’s answer to that question is to spread art like the virus but in a healing way, with all the proceeds going to the Global Giving’s Coronavirus Relief Fund, and, to run this exhibition online until a vaccine is found!
A capitalist reader perhaps would immediately question about what dollar amount from this noble project worth how many human lives. But, given the current social and political situation in this country, even those readers cannot shut their eyes from how only caring about money without any empathy possesses the threat to destroy the world’s largest economy! Thanks to Thomas Nickles Project and Ronald Vill to join hands with millions of empathic heroes in a city that has been recently designated as an anarchist jurisdiction!
Hard stops force us to re-evaluate our thoughts. An immediate danger to our survival like COVID-19 pandemic creates a harder stop to our day-to-day lives than a slow destroyer like climate change. It makes us think – what have we done wrong? And, more importantly – what can we do differently from now on?
That was the state of my mind when I walked into the Miles McEnery Gallery in Chelsea. While the 21st St gallery showed architectural paintings of Daniel Rich, the newly expanded 22nd St space exhibited the natural world in landscapes and abstraction from a group of contemporary artists. Architecture invariably becomes our natural world living in Manhattan – from older Gothic and Art Deco to newly erected modern and post-modern buildings. But, we never miss a chance to take that ferry ride to the Far Rockaway beach, or, that Metro North ride upstate for a lazy weekend of hiking on the Mount Beacon.
The contrasting experiences of these two exhibits reminded me the artistic and design work of the “city gardeners” who try to incorporate plants, flowers, waterfalls as part of the large buildings, inside or out, to attract and nest squirrels, birds, butterflies and bees! Unlike COVID-19, climate change may not kill us in next 14 days, but it may do so in next 14 years if we fail to re-evaluate our actions! Exhibits like “Back to the future” and “Do you think it needs a cloud?” serve as constant reminders for us!
Natural disasters often remind us that no matter how much we divide ourselves by geographical, social, political and economic boundaries, we all share one planet. When I entered Aicon Contemporary, a gallery on the Great Jones and Bowery, showcasing works of South Asian artists, I was immediately drawn to Sujith S.N.’s watercolor piece depicting human experience on isolation in the midst of a storm! It brought back my recent memories of hurricane Isaias that uprooted a 5-storeys tall tree in our courtyard shaking the surrounding apartment buildings.
After the hurricane passed through New York, we started to evaluate our loss and measured what we could restore. Different cultures across the world and over centuries came up with unique restoration techniques. Najmun Nahar Keya drew motivation from Kintsugi technique of Japan. In the current exhibit, she artistically restored broken parts of architectural ruins from Dhaka, Bangladesh. Gluing gold leaves on black and white photographs of these ruins on archival paper, she created a collage of multi-layered meanings. The group show named “The wheels of time” is the first exhibition after the gallery reopened from COVID-19 lockdown.
With the thoughts on changed course of actions to tackle climate change, I was walking on Wooster St in SoHo. Suddenly I heard an unusual sound over the usual hustle and bustle. As I stopped and then entered NowHere NYC, I knew I was in for a big treat! Sound artist, Ray Kunimoto installed state-of-the-art sound systems in the gallery space to design a highly immersive and peaceful acoustic experience in his first solo show in Manhattan. Drawing motivations from Zen Buddhism, the exhibit features installations reverberating the sound of water and our own footsteps.
When I had the privilege to speak with Ray in person (maintaining safe, social distancing and wearing masks), I decided to inquire about his experience with this sound installation in a location with majority of visual art exhibits.
“I’m not afraid to experiment with new things. Initially, I conceptualized this acoustic experience to be isolated from the sound of the passing cars and the constructions in this area. But, I decided to keep the doors of the gallery open as the purpose of this exhibit is not to oppose what is already there” – Ray replied.
Often we are surrounded by so many types of noises, it is rather difficult to focus our mind to think about critical problems like COVID-19 or climate change! We try to block this noise with more noise. But that strategy does not work in the long run. Ray Kunimoto’s exhibit is reminding us to accept the noise as an observer instead of opposing and reacting to it.
On my way back, I looked up at the giant Metronome clock at Union Square. Instead of showing the current time, it showed a countdown on how much time we have left before the climate of Earth reaches a tipping point given our current carbon emission. Beyond that point, extreme heat waves, level five hurricanes, scarcity of clean air or water will become part of our daily life. We have only 7 years!
Featured galleries in this article
Miles McEnery Gallery, 520 West 21st Street and 525 West 22nd Street, New York, NY 10011, Gallery Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Aicon Contemporary, 35 Great Jones Street New York, NY 10012, Gallery Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
NowHere NYC, 40 Wooster Street, New York, NY 10013, Gallery Hours:: Wednesday through Sunday, 12:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
As New York City reopens, Dhru Deb, a Postdoctoral Research Scientist in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, ventures out to the art galleries. He shares his experience below in a personal post in hopes to inform and encourage you to attend the new exhibitions in the City.
As the COVID-19 lock-down is slowly and carefully easing up in several areas of our lives, it becomes important to acknowledge and express the trauma and anxiety we have been through. In New York City, some of the reopened art galleries are currently featuring works of visual and auditory forms expressing personal narratives. Even if you aren’t a pro art enthusiast, you may identify with these visual narratives as ultimately it comes down to human experiences of uncertainty. Acknowledging it – is the first step.
Perspective. I think that one word summarizes it all.
Walking from my apartment in East Village to the art galleries in Lower East Side and Chinatown, I noticed how the city I knew so well changed in the past few months. The empty retail spaces, the unopened restaurants and the off-Broadway theaters are pointing to that anxious question – “what’s next?” So, I was curious to see how the reopened art galleries are adapting to this situation. To find out their stories.
My first destination was Foxy Production’s Graphica. See the photographs of the show here. The title “Graphica” was inspired by the painter Charles Alphonse du Fresnoy’s philosophical and instructional Latin poem “De Arte Graphica” (1668). Inside the second-floor loft space on East Broadway, Foxy Production’s founders and directors, Michael Gillespie and John Thomson united works of four contemporary artists: Michael Bell-Smith, JODI, Cindy Ji Hye Kim and Glendalys Medina.
As our recent experiences on the march for racial justice and equality in New York City had varied response, Cindy Ji Hye Kim’s black and white piece emphasizing gaze, focal point, field of vision, power and contrast immediately stood out to me. “The artist’s “Thirty Frames Per Second” (2016) is an animation ﬂip book displayed as separate pages across one wall of the gallery. Recalling Hitchcock’s use of ﬂowing dissolves that are read as one shot, the series of ink drawings has a circulating eye than can induce senses of both anxiety and freedom.”
The video documentation of the show is here. made by Charles Benton.
My second destination was Lyles & King’s newly opened location on Catherine St. within only couple of buildings of Foxy Production. The show titled “I want to feel alive again” concerns the body, empathy, and human connection, using skin as the central motif.
“With the world grown uncertain, it makes sense to refocus on figuration, to take refuge in the facticity of our bodies (when pricked, we bleed: fact), but in the current situation it is a roulette wheel: our bodies could betray us and fail at any time.” – this sentence in the press release directly connected to the anxiety I felt as a cancer researcher during the COVID-19 lockdown! The carefully curated artworks for this show aligned with this message.
In the inaugural show, I had the pleasure of speaking to the Owner and Director, Issac Lyles. The outdoor backyard space, as Isaac will emphasize, is a must-see if you are visiting the gallery. The current show will identify with our cravings for skin-to-skin contact that’s impossible as we focus on safe, social distancing.
For my third destination, I walked along the Essex St. up until the Houston St. where Chapter NY found a cute and sunny location. The show titled “Phantom Gates and Falling Homes” by artist Cheyenne Julien presents a multifaceted view of the city life.
Perhaps the most direct link to the recent #BLM protest days from a population already angered, anxious and frustrated from COVID-19 lockdown is depicted in the artworks. You will realize these emotions on many levels as you stand in front the painting showing a hand holding a knife is stabbing the water bottles rolling out of a vandalized vending machine! Similarly, you will observe the subject in Trini Slangs, “flaunts her t-shirt which has been knotted to accentuate her tapered waist and curving hips. She holds her pose with confidence and ease.”
For viewing, in all these venues, I almost had the whole gallery to myself. Perhaps a rainy weekday afternoon added to the reasons along with the dedicated gallery visitors struggling to keep up with planning on online appointments and a fear of being in closed spaces. However, the gallery staffs were periodically cleaning the surfaces touched by the visitors and bottles of hand sanitizers were placed at the entrance.
For a scientist-artist and a “New Yorker at heart” like myself, New York City still remains “the city of final destination” as you will read in E.B. White’s essay. While Jerry Seinfeld’s recent opinion piece on New York Times comforts me that New York will NEVER be over, experiencing the re-opening of art galleries that have been the beating heart of the social and cultural scene of this city, reassures that very notion. Thanks to Foxy Production, Lyles & King, and Chapter NY, I get to live this city life once again through the perspective of others!
Featured shows and galleries in this article:
Cindy Ji Hye Kim, Glendalys Medina, Jodi, Michael Bell-Smith “Graphica” at Foxy Production < https://www.foxyproduction.com/ > 2 E Broadway, 200, Wed – Sun, 11-6
“I Want To Feel Alive Again” at Lyles & King < http://www.lylesandking.com/ > 21 Catherine street, Gallery Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 11-6; Sunday 12-6