October 2014 Archives

Vilaykorn Sayaphet Ninety-One 2014 oil on board 18" x 18"

Vilaykorn Sayaphet's show of new paintings, "Latmanikham & Thongsy", at English Kills Art Gallery is a treasure. These are 'pictures' in both the most elemental and the most profound workings of a totally inadequate word. The three images I happen to have taken while at the gallery are probably of paintings more abstract than some of the others, but they all suggest representation, and yet largely elude interpretation.

I think they are all described as oil on board, but most of the works incorporate collaged elements, and in some cases they display physical interruptions/mutilations of the (mostly found) panels themselves, as is the case with "18 Hours Straight", below. Sometimes they move a bit beyond the panels' perimeters, and occasionally they directly engage the artist's rough framing.

Vilaykorn Sayaphet 18 Hours Straight 2014 oil on board 20" x 18"

They're all very beautiful, and I'm pretty sure unlike anything I've seen before.

Barry and I had intended to be at the opening reception late last month, but major travel plans, later aborted, kept us away. We weren't able to see it until this past weekend, and now it appears we're not the only ones excited about Sayaphet's Bushwick show. I expect his work will inspire another opening before very long, and we're not gong to want miss it.

Ben La Rocco has written a review for Hyperallergic which I discovered after I had decided to write this post; it's so good that I won't try to add to it, other than to suggest that people find their way to the gallery before "Latmanikham & Thongsy" closes on Sunday.

Vilaykorn Sayaphet Van Gogh's Blue oil on board 14" x 14"

It was conceived as an important visual document, accessible to the public and to institutions, which would describe the faces of a community and a moment whose memory is already fading from our consciousness.

The Kickstarter for the project needs a real boost as it winds down now, with less than three days to go. If the book doesn't get published, I think it will be a genuine loss for activism today.

Of course if it does get published, it won't mean a cure for AIDS. Also, to be sure, "The AIDS activist project: A new book of portraits of AIDS activists from around the globe" is not a vanity project for the artist, Bill Bytsura, or for those members of the historical ACT UP whose beautiful portraits will be a part of it.

Its importance is greater than the authors of the project or the subjects included in the book.

Pictures are important for understanding a past and inspiring a future, but pictures assembled in a context are still more important, and take on a life of their own. ACT UP was a movement which exploded in the late 80s, and burgeoned through half of the next decade, responding creatively, and often heroically, to a life and death crisis which was being ignored by an establishment which appeared to be unmovable.

Its people and the community they formed, along with the AIDS crisis which galvanized them, may be ancient history to a generation struggling today worldwide with an indifference among the powerful arguably even broader in scale - if, perhaps, less deadly. There is much to be gained today from looking at the devices employed, their successes - along with their failures, by a movement which flourished twenty and more years back. There's also the courage and nobility of so many of its members, and the anger and the love which was always a part of the movement.

Bytsura's book would give a face to an entire generation of activists (although in fact people of all ages were included in its membership), and it could serve an entire new generation as both muster to resistance, and powerful inspiration for effective resistance. Please help to breathe life into it, and consider contributing to its publication.

Full disclosure: Billy has been a friend since the days of ACT UP at it peak, and Barry and I have several of his beautiful non-activist photographs in our collection. There is also this portrait of a very young me, at 50, in 1990.


Yesterday we visited the first part of the third and final stage of New York City's richest park, the High Line. We went with a Berlin friend who is visiting New York to attend a tech design conference and was very eager to see it. In fact, I think it was the only thing he had mentioned when we asked what he would like to do while here. Berlin has an enormous amount of green space, and Nico, who has been to New York before, knows the poverty of our own.

There was a light drizzle all afternoon, which may explain my reluctance to capture more images than that of this faux-naturalistic arrangement of wild flowers somewhere above the tracks.

I generally love the rain, so the dampness probably can't explain my mild melancholy as we traced our path north above our neighborhood, starting at the 18th Street stairs. The number of new high-rise luxury apartments (they're always 'luxury apartments', aren't they?) which continue to spring up barely a few feet away from the re-conceived elevated garden path has always depressed me. Even before spotting the latest crop yesterday I had wondered, and only half in jest, when we would reach the critical mass which would block the sun altogether, preventing anything, even its iconic weeds, from surviving on what the New York Times calls "the cherished cause of Western Manhattanites".

Then I saw, straight ahead, the wall of the enormous under-construction high-rise which looms above the park exactly where it abruptly turns toward west, at 30th Street. We turned and walked toward the Hudson River, soon clearing its mass. The view was then completely open in that direction, as well as north to 34th Street and the Javits Convention Center, and even far to the east (especially once we arrived where the section curves to the north), above what had once been the West Side Yard. Open, that is, for now. Parts of the yards have already been covered in steel and concrete, in anticipation of the Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project, an enormous corporate investment for 'developing' the former rail yards with high rises. Some of the buildings planned will apparently rival the height of the Empire State Building, already beginning to take a back seat to the developments on 57th Street.

The platform of the Hudson Yards Project will be at the same height as our much-vaunted 'aerial greenway', and the new buildings will actually present the only views available from this third section of the park - except for the window to the west, toward the Hudson, between 30th and 34th streets (the proximity of the West Wide Highway and Hudson River Park would seem to ensure that view at least remains).

The best part about the new section? I would say it's the fact that, in its more natural-looking state, it really is, more than the first two sections do, a bit more like what attracted people to the abandoned West Side Line in the first place.

The worst part? The certain knowledge that much of what makes it special now will be reduced, co-opted by the capitalist greed which cynically adopted the park in the end.

Also, for me this paragraph is probably the brightest section of the Times story linked in the third paragraph above [neither the Mayor nor his parks commissioner attended last month's formal opening of the section]:

Mr. de Blasio, a Brooklynite who prefers the scruffier fields of Prospect Park, is less focused on forging new urban green space than on reviving old ones. He has called for wealthy private conservancies -- similar to the one that oversees the High Line -- to share financial resources with impoverished parks around the city.

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