The trip from JFK Airport to Hoboken is straight forward but time consuming. Air train to Howards Beach, change onto the subway and take the A train to 14th Street, walk the two blocks along 14th Street from 8th Avenue to the PATH train on 6th Avenue. From the Hoboken stop it only takes a couple of minutes to reach Washington Street. Tom McGlynn is in waiting for me when I arrive at about 11PM on Wednesday 18 January. Before crashing we talk for a couple of hours about art and how people interact on the web.
On thursday morning I take the PATH to 9th Street and walk around downtown Manhattan for a couple of hours. Among other things I check out the 5.99 DVD Funhouse on Broadway. Actually while a lot of their films are $5.99, they also have loads of $2.99 bargains (or 4 for $10). There wasn’t much in the horror department that interested me, but as always the DVD Funhouse had plenty of martial arts films to groove a discerning trash fan fanatic. I picked up a copy of Kung Fu Vs Yoga on the notorious Videoasia label (which specialises in public domain pan and scan reissues mastered from dodgy VHS tapes). I’d wanted a copy of Kung Fu Vs Yoga for a long time but wasn’t prepared to part with the tenner in sterling it would have cost me to buy the Videoasia edition online – I managed to miss picking up a copy of the UK Vengeance Video release of this title because it sold out before dropping to a price I’m willing to pay for DVD (£3 and under – and most of the Vengeance Videos I have were picked up for a quid from London retail outlets that were closing down as the credit crunch kicked in).
I’d arranged to meet up with Tom McGlynn and Bill Doherty at White Columns at lunchtime. I got to WC a little early so I could check in with Matthew Higgs, Amie Scally and Carolyn Lockhart. I’d also wanted to see the 6th White Columns annual show. The exhibition Looking Back was curated by Ken Okiishi and Nick Mauss. The idea behind the annual is for those making the selection to give a flavour of the art that was exhibited in New York over the past year. Sherrie Levine is the only artist included in Looking Back whose work I actually saw in NYC over the past 12 months, so overall the show was a fantastic catch up for me. It’s also great to see Levine’s sculpture just sitting on the floor, which gives it a really different vibe to the carefully considered installation of her retrospective at the Whitney last year…
Tom, Bill and I go to Snice for coffee, then take the subway to Long Island City in Queens. Our first port of call is PS1. We’ve just missed the big 9/11 show but there are still curiosities – in particular My Best Thing (2011) by Francis Stark (an animation about cybersex) and Rania Stephan’s tribute to Egytpian actress and suicide Soad Hosni. The Three Disappearances of Soad Hosni (2011) is a scratch video featuring themed selections of scenes from 60 of this actress’s movies. While I’m at PS1 Tom introduces me to Robert Nickas. The 2010 annual at White Columns was curated by Nickas, and he’s just done an occasional publication with White Columns about disappeared artists. Nickas tells me that thanks to my Art Strike, I came up in discussion with his students when they were working on this project.
From PS1 we move on to Dorksy Project Space for a really strange show of artists who have both sculptural and video practices… Video<>Object was not to my taste but in case you’re interested it featured Nancy Davidson, Yasue Maetake, Halsey Rodman, Jeanne Silverthorne and Moira Williams – and was curated by Laurence Hegarty. After an overload of art, we decided coffee was needed, so we headed to some place Tom and Bill knew and this turned out to be a funky little bistro. Fortified with our drug of choice, we moved on to the Yace Gallery for the opening of Reenacting Sense – a group show and only the second ever exhibition at a space that is so new it isn’t listed in the Long Island City Cultural Alliance guide. We’re at the opening because Tom and Bill know Pinkney Herbert who is showing alongside Cecile Chong, Kyung Jeon, Dominic Mangila and Pierre Obando. The show isn’t so much walking a tightrope between eclecticism and incoherence as jumping headlong into the void. It might be amusing – albeit challenging – to create a theoretical discourse that is capable of drawing the work together. I think the curator is called Juri Kim Pang, and she didn’t appear to have any kind of argument to explain the selections she’d made…
Friday morning found me once again wandering around downtown alone – doing things like checking out the record stores on Bleeker Street. There was nothing worth buying in the bargain bins. At lunchtime I met up with Tom McGlynn and Kenny Goldsmith at White Columns. After saying high to Jeff Eaton, who’d been off work when I’d popped in the day before, we moved on to Snice for coffee. Over our brews we talked about sound poetry and pop music. Kenny walked with us to meet Lynne Tillman outside SVA on 21st Street, but headed off before Lynne appeared. With Lynne, Tom and I went to a nearby Italian restaurant – the food was great and the conversation even better. Tom was surprised by the opinions Lynne and I expressed about one well known American writer in particular – but unlike me, Lynne never voices her dislikes publicly, so I won’t name the guilty party here! After we ate, Lynne and Tom headed south, while I wandered north as I had a hotel room for one night.
I decided to walk to 92nd and Madison Avenue, mainly because I can’t recall ever going through Central Park in the dark and I wanted to see if it feels anything like the way it is depicted in the 1974 movie Death Wish. If you were able to ignore the joggers and the dog walkers – which is difficult – then just maybe the landscape is capable of evoking that long gone 1970s era of decline in NYC! I don’t spot anyone who looked the part of a potential mugger or murder victim in a Michael Winner movie. That said, I’ve loved Charles Bronson movies since I was a kid, so I overshoot my destination and go all the way to the north end of the park at 110th Street, then double back along Fifth Avenue and down 93rd Street (all this despite the fact I much prefer Bronson in movies like The Street Fighter AKA Hard Times to Death Wish). Earlier on I’d found it impossible to reconcile some of what were once New York’s sleazier areas – as depicted in films such as Abel Ferrara’a Driller Killer (1979) and Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case (1982) – with how they are today. On the subway over the previous couple of days I’d almost had flashes of the way the city appeared in Lucio Fulci’s New York Ripper (1982) – but in the end I had to conclude that NYC as I’d most liked it on thirty to forty year old celluloid had disappeared (assuming that is, this hadn’t always been a fiction).
Hotel Wales turned out to be a conversion. I tried opening what I thought was a cupboard and it turned out to be an unlocked connecting door to the next suite, and in doing so I seriously freaked out the married couple occupying the room. Once I’d settled in I sat on the bed and read most of Video Green: Los Angeles Art and the Triumph of Nothingness by Chris Kraus. After taking a shower I went to bed. In the morning I finished reading Video Green and checked out around 9.30am. I had planned to use the gym (but the hotel wanted to charge me $15 for that) and work online (but it was $12.95 for internet access), so I didn’t bother with either (the hotel was paid for by the Guggenheim, I had to cover the extras). It was snowing when I left the hotel and I enjoyed the way the city and my walking were transformed by the weather. I ambled down to 13th Street amazed by how little traffic was on the roads. I made use of the customer wi fi in Snice while eating soup. I was waiting for White Columns to open so that I could check in there for a final time this trip. The gallery is closed on Sunday. Neither Matthew nor Amie were around but I caught Jeff Eaton. Then it was the PATH from 14th and 6th to Hoboken. Tom wasn’t in when I arrived at his apartment, but he came up the stairs two minutes behind me. We headed out almost immediately to catch up with Bill Doherty in a nearby coffee shop.
I headed to the Guggenheim alone – Tom was coming later. I took the PATH to 33rd Street and walked the rest of the way to 89th. The Last Word event was mobbed. The queue went around the block and all the way back and along Madison Avenue. Even as a participant it took a while to get in, so despite turning up at six I missed the beginning. I’d have needed to get there early to catch it from the start. The Maurizio Cattelan show was pure spectacle and it was packed – making it even harder to get into the museum. Everything was hanging from the ceiling on ropes of many and varied lengths, and there were people milling on every level of the Guggenheim spiral. Like a lot of successful contemporary artists, Cattelan’s work is obviously difficult and expensive to fabricate, although the actual imagery is extremely populist and accessible. Cattelan had announced he was going to stop making art, which was why I was speaking at an evening of talks dedicated to endings and death – it was designed to accompany his farewell retrospective.
The set up for The Last Word is great: 7 hours with a wide range of speakers talking for just 10 minutes each. There’s a green room with fabulous food and everything is perfectly set up in the theatre. I natter to various people as I grab grub and drinks – including, of course, organisers Nancy Spector and Simon Critchley. It’s particularly nice to connect with M C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel from Baltimore, who know all about me through our mutual friend John Berndt. My talk about The Art Strike gets plenty of laughs, so I’m happy with that too. After I’ve spoken, Richard Kostelanetz grabs hold of me. We’ve been trying to meet for years but somehow it’s never happened, so we finally hooked up in 2012!
After I’ve chatted with Richard, Tom McGlynn grabbed hold of me. He’d turned up around eight and had been enjoying the event, but we decided to leave about 11.30PM. There are only so many talks you can take in during the course of a night! The next morning we hang out before I take the PATH to 14th Street. I buy a pair of Levi 501s from Dave’s on The Avenue of the Americas (just a couple of blocks up from the PATH stop). I still had some dollars burning a hole in my pocket so I got a copy of The Flying Guillotine (the pre-Wang Yu 1975 Shaw Brothers epic that inspired the superior spin offs) in Entertainment Outlet on 14th Street. Then I moved a few shops shops down the road and spent the rest of my money in 14 Street DVD Center, where I picked up a copy of Golden Needles (1974) starring Jim Kelly (I didn’t even know that film was on DVD!). I used my Metrocard to take the subway to JFK (actually it’s ten cents short of the fare – but I get through okay).
Virgin Atlantic tell me my flight is cancelled but I’m in time for an earlier plane if I’m prepared to pay for an upgrade from economy to premium economy. I tell them to stuff that and say insist I should get on the earlier flight without paying extra for it. They say tough basically because there are no economy seats left on the earlier departure. Now that’s what I call corporate generosity (not), since it would have actually cost them nothing to put me in premium economy and they cancelled my later flight… So I’m left to hang around the airport until it is time to board an even later departure for London… While I’m kicking my heels at JFK, I notice one of the dollar bills I was given in change at the 14 Street DVD Center is stamped with the slogan: “Track this bill at wwww.WheresGeorge.com”… This is a website that records the movements of currency but it relies on those who end up with the notes the project has marked logging in there. I haven’t registered my dollar bill. Does anyone know anything about the site and whether there are any good reasons for either registering or not registering with it?
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!