Ned Vena

17 Mar - 15 Apr 2017

Installation view
17 March – 15 April 2017

The paintings on view depict the Manhattan skyline, reflected in the eye of Spiderman, in various stages of its existence since the World Trade Centers were finished in lower Manhattan in 1973. These images are printed onto the canvas from digital files made from scans of spray-painted drawings purchased from street merchants, catering to tourists, operating primarily around Times Square. These merchants produce the paintings using spray paint and sell them at a bargain. Their presence in the area is in line with the touters of three-card monte, bucket drummers, rappers hawking mixtapes, and the many other enterprising hustlers that have defined the neighborhood by setting up shop on the busy sidewalks for decades. These drawings are prepared on site and the customer is asked to choose which Manhattan they would like depicted, new or old, to be reflected like a mirror, in the glassy eye of a character from a fantasy. There is a sufficient quotient of magic and speed in the production of these images, making it an efficient street-level hustle. The artists work quickly, using shitty materials to produce effects that develop on the surface of the work like an apparition. Most transactions are done in cash, though some vendors now use Square and so have the capability to accept payment by card.

The motif of the Manhattan skyline has three versions. One version represents the former World Trade Center ‘Twin Tower’ buildings. The Twin Towers’ skyline represents nearly four decades of a city that was consumed by crime, one that Gerald Ford told to ‘drop dead’; a bankrupt New York, at the financial mercy of Wall Street and real estate fat cats. It was an era that culminated with the Giuliani mayoral regime, the so-called ‘Disneyfication’ of Times Square, and the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 when the Twin Towers were destroyed. Another version painted shows the absence of any tower, depicting the nine years between late 2001 and 2010 when the new World Trade Center’s sluggish construction was only halfway to completion and not yet the dominating landmark on the Manhattan skyline. This interim period was one of post traumatic stress. The area around the WTC was given the provisional title “Ground Zero”; architects and engineers struggled to replace the WTC and America invaded Iraq for the second time in thirteen years. The third version painted by the vendors features the completed World Trade Center 1 building, formerly known as “The Freedom Tower” which stands at 1776 feet tall. WTC1 was completed in July of 2012, four months before Barack Obama was elected to his second term as president of the United States. It is the contemporary landmark skyscraper of New York, save for for 432 Park Avenue on “Billionaires Row”, which is the second tallest building in the city. The glassy and geometric facade of WTC1 is representative of the rapid construction and development that has taken hold of New York City in the first decades of the 21st Century.

Also on view are Frottage drawings made by rubbing a conté stick onto paper pressed against cars parked on the streets of Berlin. The cars that acted as surfaces for these rubbings were private vehicles and cargo vans, as well as the shared vehicles owned by companies like Car2Go and Drive Now, that are not exactly private. The conté charcoal stick is a rudimentary drawing tool, made of compressed ash with wax as a binder. Frottage is a Surrealist drawing technique developed by Max Ernst, later to be used by Henri Michaux, Robert Overby and many others. Aside from its use by artists, visitors to colonial graveyards in the United States often make frottage recordings of the elaborate designs carved into the headstones belonging to the people buried there.

As paintings in a gallery, a new dimension of reflection is coded into Spiderman’s view and a different register of fantasy plays out on their surface. The relocation of Spiderman’s eye from the international hub of tourism to a gallery creates new nodes of activity within the hustlers trade network, implicating not only the gallery and the artist, but also the audience into their expanded web. Meanwhile, the logos and names rubbed off of cars bear theunintended potential of relating to the themes of Spiderman, and even art making.

Tags: Max Ernst, Henri Michaux, Robert Overby, Ned Vena