Saturday, May 7, 2011


by Drew Martin

Yesterday I hung the photo show I did for the New York Public Library, which is a continuation of my UNDER THE HOOD series I have done in Ridgewood, NJ, Los Angeles and Prague. The New York version is comprised of 270 black and white film photographs of people, pets and places in the West Village neighborhood of the Hudson Park Branch.

I was hoping nobody would be in the reference room gallery while I was hanging it so that I would not bother anyone and so I could have some privacy. My art has always been this kind of shy approach to socializing with people.

I walked over to the library on my lunch break with my clothesline, clothespins, photos with pre-attached handwritten captions, scissors, black and yellow handled phillips head screwdriver and a sandwich bag full of short drywall screws.

I was supposed to hang the show at the beginning of the week but the branch was undergoing renovations so the gallery space was being painted and carpeted. I wanted to get it in before the weekend so I was glad it was back open by Friday.

When I arrived at the reference room gallery, I got a bit nervous because there was a young lady sitting in the corner working on her Mac. I unpacked my things and screwed in one screw to a wall panel where I would start to hang my clothesline. The next screw I had to put directly behind her because she was in the corner so I mentioned that I was just going to be stepping behind her to do a little work.

"I am hanging a show" I said.

"A show?" she responded.

I did not explain anything further but just tried to be quiet and hurry because I had a lot of work to do. In total I screwed in about ten screws and hung about 150 feet of clothesline. I attached each photo with one black plastic IKEA clothespin. It took longer than I had expected but I liked the effect because this manner of hanging the show had an installation art feel to it; the clothesline helped redefine the space and it leads into corners and spaces which are typically untrodden.

The reason why I use clothesline is because the first show of this project was displayed in my backyard on my numerous clotheslines. They are actually forbidden in my town but there is nothing that will come between me and my laundry, especially freshly cleaned sheets that spend the day outside in the sun. In the Los Angeles version of this show Bill Wheelock, of The Thinkery, remarked how economical the clothesline system works for hanging art; quick to put up, quick to take down, with only a few contact points.

The process of this current show was very social in that I had to stop people I did not know, explain to them what I was doing and spend some time with them...often over half an hour just to get a couple casual pictures. But once the shooting was finished the process was singular and a bit lonely. While I was hanging it, I understood that I was going to walk away from it and not really be present when most people viewed the pictures. This did not feel right because the other three previous shows had a party feel to them. So I was happy there was someone present, perhaps interested in what I was doing at some level, although the way she said "A show?" I was not expecting any enthusiasm.

None-the-less, while I was going through the motions of hanging the show, I was also thinking about who this person might be. I thought perhaps she was unemployed, looking for job leads on her computer. I dared not look at her screen when I was behind her and I thought I should just carry on and then leave, with a simple thanks for her patience.

At one point she got up and asked me where the bathroom was so I explained to her how to get there. When she returned, she looked at a few of the pictures and then sat back down, saying something to me about her liking the show, especially that I had written personal captions for each picture. Eventually we spoke a little bit more about project and I showed her my write-up for it online (Won't Your Be My Neighbor?). Then to my surprise, she explained that she was part of an arts organization that was along the lines of what I was doing.

When I got back to my desk, I looked up the group SmartSpaces and was amazed by what I saw because it is an organization pursuing the kind of projects I have been interested in and doing since the late 1980s.

From their website:

SmartSpaces re-imagines vacant urban spaces as places to present contemporary art, with a mission to make art more accessible, while energizing local communities. Working with curators and arts organizations, SmartSpaces facilitates artistic interventions at the borders of public and private space, transforming empty properties into temporary public art venues, with information and tools that engage and inform the public.

It turns out this young lady is one of the SmartSpaces team members, Tristine Skyler, a New York based playwright, screenwriter, and producer.

SmartSpaces currently has a Window Series project by Shannon Plumb at 200 Lafayette Street until June 3. I listened to a clip of Shannon speaking about the project online so now I am excited to see her work for many reasons, which I can address it a post dedicated to it in the near future.

The Window Series (2010-2011) in the windows of 200 Lafayette Street. This series of six videos explores notions of voyeurism, intimacy, humor and silence in the context of a large city. Looking at a photograph of an apartment building in New York City, the artist began to imagine the different lives behind each of the individual windows, leading to an investigation of multiple imagined lives.
click to listen

Select images of UNDER THE HOOD: New York can be viewed in an online book at blurb. click to preview

This show will be up until the end of June, 2011 at:
New York Public Library - Hudson Park Branch, 66 Leroy Street, New York, NY

Viewing hours:
Monday & Wednesday 10am - 6pm; Tuesday & Thursday 10am-8pm; Friday & Saturday 1pm-5pm