Ephemeral Art in the Lower East Side

As far as galleries go, Chelsea tends to be the undisputed ruler of the New York City art scene. With over two hundred art galleries, patrons and collectors flock to the neighborhood to see and buy art of all types. This wasn’t always the case though. Before Chelsea, it was SoHo. Soon though, with the arrival of high-priced boutiques and restaurants catering to bourgeoise palates, the galleries moved to find more affordable real estate. The Chelsea scene became known as the “edgier” of the two, quickly surpassing SoHo as the more popular artists’ space in the city.

Now, with the arrival of high-priced boutiques and restaurants catering to bourgeoise palettes, galleries are rapidly opening on the Lower East Side. The LES is now known as the “edgier” of the two neighborhoods. These spaces, adopting a more experimental and bizarre approach, have come to be considered an antithesis to the “Chelsea-like” galleries now characterized by white walls and clean lines.

The LES has been famous for housing the not-yet-fully-famous for decades. Its once cheap rent allowed artists to actually pursue their art, and the dingy surroundings provided the grungy type of inspiration that often breeds bizarre and experimental new forms and pieces.

I stumbled into one such place in the summer of 2016. I still don’t actually know the name or the place, and am not entirely sure if it was in an official gallery or if an artist stumbled upon an abandoned property and considered it the perfect venue in which to debut his neon-cloaked, doll-part filled representation of consumer culture.

I also don’t know the name of the artist. We were walking through the Lower East Side late at night when we saw a purple glow emanating from a door. We stopped and a man sitting on the floor next to a ladder (presumably considering what next to add to the already full selection of signage, lights, and feathers) invited us in. He nonchalantly told us to look. The only other time he spoke to us was when I asked him the name of the exhibit. “Heaven and Hell,” he responded, never turning to look at us.

The space felt erratically curated, although I’m sure that the objects’ placements were carefully considered in order to convey exactly this sentiment. The experience felt like a dreamscape. Nobody else entered the venue while we were there, and the incessant glow and barrage of sensory eccentricities removed our general sense of reality.

Later, I tried to figure out the name of the artist and couldn’t. I could find no record of the piece, no evidence that the exhibit even occurred. The art was in the content, but also perhaps in its temporality.

While the Lower East Side has miraculously retained some of its underground character, rising rent may soon eradicate what remains. This type of art scene, just like the particular piece that I saw, is ephemeral.

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