The Yok, New York
In New York, art is not dissimilar to pizza. There’s the good stuff, the bad stuff, the stuff that costs next to nothing, and the stuff you pay a high premium for. But it’s all pizza and it’s everywhere: on street corners, in fancy institutions, in pop-up shops and private homes. And because New York’s population is vast —and its inhabitants eclectic—there’s a good chance that no matter what you’re selling, somebody’s keen for a bite.
The Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) non-profit, hip younger sister, MoMA PS1 in Long Island City, boasts a collection of contemporary works by American and international artists. But just around the corner from the museum lies a superb enclave of spray-painted brick walls known as 5Pointz, where beat boxers often converge on weekends to rap in front of large-scale graffiti works. Included among them are works by The Yok, who hails from Perth, Australia.
The Yok, who works with silkscreen, paint, spray paint and latex, moved to New York two years ago to immerse himself in a larger artistic community. While rents are higher in Manhattan and he was forced to forge new relationships with suppliers, The Yok and and his girlfriend gained some notoriety three months in, when they painted about 15 walls in three months. Recognition followed and galleries began inviting them to do group shows.
‘It took a lot of work, motivation and money and it’s still pretty tough,’ says the artist of living here. ‘And we haven’t even scratched the surface.’[i]
New York’s diverse boroughs and transient nature have attracted artists for decades, who, like The Yok, are drawn to the vibrant energy of the city and its encouraging arts community.
Chelsea in Manhattan is home to the most commercial galleries, housing established moneymakers such as Gagosian Gallery and David Zwirner. According to gallery owner Sundaram Tagore, at one point there were 360 galleries in Chelsea alone. On a balmy Friday night suited-up men and women in stilettos sip beer from iced-cold bins, spilling out onto the streets between West 19th and West 27th. At the opening of an exhibition of works by Australian photographer Russell James at CATM Chelsea Gallery late last year, Victoria’s Secret model Adriana Lima showed up.
Tagore, whose eponymous gallery represents a spate of international artists including Australian painter Denise Green, says New York is filled with galleries representing a unique group of artists, such as those from Russia or China. His aim was to create a space that allowed a point of intersection between cultures.
The Yok, New York
With Chelsea chock full, many new gallery owners are setting up shop in the Lower East Side (LES). There, rents can range from $US2 000 to $US10 000 a month, compared with $US25 000 or more for a gallery in Chelsea, according to The New York Times.
Some are artist-run initiatives, others are the size of a small bedroom, but the LES is filled with galleries peddling weird and wonderful creations. You can walk past Rachel Uffner Gallery on Orchard Street, or Eleven Rivington on the corner of Rivington and Chrystie, see something through the window that catches your eye and minutes later find yourself sipping a glass of Malbec from a plastic cup as you mingle with a cool, young crowd.
Of course, young artists are also flocking to New York’s hipster haven, Brooklyn, in particular, Bushwick, where galleries such as English Kills, Centotto, Regina Rex and Famous Accountants have opened in recent years. Most of the gallery owners are in their thirties and the scene is one of experimentation and support. But it’s that ‘anything goes, can-do’ attitude which continues to lure emerging artists to the Big Apple. As The Yok puts it: ‘New York has its own energy. That sounds weird, but it’s true. You can just plug in and feed off it.’[ii]
[i] The Yok, conversation with the author, July 9, 2012.
Hannah Tattersall is an independent writer, journalist and copywriter who writes for a number of publications in Australia. She recently returned to Sydney from New York where she...