Nine New York galleries have based a major exhibit on Lush Life, Richard Price’s bestselling novel, and the true crimes that happened on those streets. Plus, more on Art Beast.
It’s officially summer. And that means that half of the New York art world has gone into hiding and the other half has shlepped out whatever is lurking in the storeroom for the ubiquitous summer group show. Nine Lower East Side galleries have banded together to do something a bit different. Drawing inspiration from Richard Price’s widely praised and city-centric novel, Lush Life (2008), these galleries are playing host to a cohesive, multi-venue exhibition that touches on themes of race, class, guilt, love, loss, and authority--not to mention what it’s like to live, work, drink, and die on the very streets upon which these galleries are perched.
Click here to see our INSIDER’S GUIDE, chapter by chapter, to the LUSH LIFE exhibit
Price’s novel is about what happens when two very different New York worlds collide—tragically, in this case. A white bartender is mugged and shot dead by a black teen from the nearby projects (the incident was loosely inspired by the 2005 Nicole duFresne mugging/murder, which happened in the same neighborhood). The primary witness is the victim’s boss, Eric Cash—a thirtysomething dilettante who manages a restaurant on Rivington Street (if it reminded you of Schiller’s Liquor Bar, you wouldn’t be wrong). Cash’s fishy behavior during and after the crime led to a grueling interrogation with hardened cops Matty and Yolanda, who initially treat him as a suspect. He’s freed when a second witness corroborates his story, but as Matty and Yolanda pursue the real “perp,” we’re left wondering what Cash has to hide.
The interpretations on view in the galleries—organized by the installation artist Franklin Evans and independent curator Omar Lopez-Chahoud, with each space laying claim to one of the book’s nine chapters—range from literal to loose, with some artworks seeming to illustrate Price’s narrative precisely, and others referring both directly and indirectly to his general milieu. After hitting up all nine spaces last week, we present a brief synopsis of each gallery’s interpretation (we’ll try not to give too much away, but a couple spoilers ahead).
CHAPTER ONE: Whistle Gallery: Sue Scott
What Happens in the Book: Lots of exposition—an introduction to the major players (Eric Cash; Big Dap, Little Dap, and Tristan, kids from the projects; mega-restaurateur Harry Steele—think: Keith McNally) and to the neighborhood’s rapidly changing socio-economic landscape.
What You’ll See in the Gallery: David Kramer’s (Bar) Unfinished Business (2010): a wooden three-seat bar stocked with beer, wine, and a half-empty handle of Jim Beam (a nod to the book’s hipster hangout, Café Berkman); Alice O’Malley’s photographs of the late 1990s Lower East Side.
CHAPTER TWO: Liar Gallery: On Stellar Rays
What Happens in the Book: Bartender Ike Marcus is shot dead in a botched mugging after a night on the town with Cash and aspiring actor/neighborhood lush Stephen Boulware; Cash gets grilled by cops Matty and Yolanda—he didn’t do it, but there are holes in his story...
What You’ll See in the Gallery: Ezra Johnson’s massive text-based painting reading “Doubt”; Tim Davis’s photograph of two Chuck Taylor-wearing teens clutching a sign that says “Give Me Your Money Bitch”; Carol Irving’s brilliant Bearing Truth (2004), a video documentation of the artist subjecting herself to a nude polygraph test (“Is your first name Carol?” Yes. “Do you like being the center of attention?” Yes.).
CHAPTER THREE: First Bird (A Few Butterflies) Gallery: Invisible-Exports
What Happens in the Book: The botched robbery, from Tristan and Little Dap’s point of view.
What You’ll See in the Gallery: Christoph Draeger’s I’m gonna beat you down to my size (2010), a bent and battered “No Parking: School Zone” sign; Ezra Johnson’s What Visions Burn (2008), a painterly animation picturing a downtown gallery heist; and Wes Lang’s No More Sorrow… (2009), a delicate drawing of a small bird with the phrase “What are they doing in heaven today?” scrawled above its head.
CHAPTER FOUR: Let It Die Gallery: Lehmann Maupin
What Happens in the Book: Matty gets pushback from his superiors while trying to delve deeper into the case; Cash won’t cooperate with police as a witness; Tristan’s disheartening and abusive home life; the victim’s father’s breakdown, and decision to look for clues himself.
What You’ll See in the Gallery: Tommy Hartung’s eerie and decrepit stop-motion animation The Story of Edward Holmes (2008); Amy Longenecker-Brown’s small, poignant paintings of a decrepit public restroom and a bedroom slowly being engulfed in flames; and Robert Buck’s The Shrine (2000), a collection of flowers, balloons, and stuffed animals installed outside of the gallery.
CHAPTER FIVE: Want Cards Gallery: Y
What Happens in the Book: The cops try using Harry Steele to get Cash (his employee) to cooperate; Yolanda visits Tristan at home, while responding to a domestic dispute call
What You’ll See in the Gallery: Rudy Shepherd’s nuanced portraits of members of the “ Jena Six”; Jonathan VanDyke’s The Insatiable Horizon (2009), a geometric wall-mounted sculpture that oozes multicolored paint onto the floor; and Christoph Draeger’s stark photographs of the white “Ghost Bikes” installed to commemorate bicycle riders killed around New York City.
CHAPTER SIX: The Devil You Know Gallery: Collette Blanchard
What Happens in the Book: Locals and college buddies throw a memorial party for Ike; Cash is crucified in the press for his refusal to cooperate with police, and begins to unravel.
What You’ll See in the Gallery: LaToya Ruby Frazier’s intimate black and white photographs of her family and their homes; Paul Gabrielli’s readymade sculpture comprising a pedestal, a spotlight, and a surveillance mirror; Robin Graubard’s shots of various fringe subcultures, sprawled over the wall in a frenetic collage.
CHAPTER SEVEN: Wolf Tickets Gallery: Salon 94 Freemans
What Happens in the Book: Cash tries to figure out how to escape the city but gets mugged and bludgeoned in the process, and finally agrees to cooperate with police; Ike’s father holds a press conference to regenerate interest in his son’s case; Little Dap gets pulled over, spills the beans for immunity.
What You’ll See in the Gallery: Robert Lazzarini’s trippy sculptural takes on brass knuckles and guns (go see them live, if you can—images don’t even begin to do them justice…); Overgrowth (2010), Erik Benson’s textured acrylic painting of graffiti and a scrappy chain link fence butting right up against a cluster of new luxury hi-rise buildings; Paul Pfeiffer’s Goethe’s Message to the New Negro (2001), video footage of basketball players from behind, spliced together to create what feels like a composite image of the athletic black male.
CHAPTER EIGHT: 17 Plus 25 Is 32 Gallery: Scaramouche
What Happens in the Book: Case closed on Ike Marcus; another shooting happens, this victim a black teen in the projects; Yolanda, a former projects kid herself, takes the lead.
What You’ll See in the Gallery: Abstract works, mainly, including Paul Pagk’s monochromatic painting O G L S #116 (2010) and Melissa Gordon’s Heraldic Construction II (2009), both of which resemble jail cell bars; Melissa Gordon’s Climax Point (2009), a cut-up acrylic on linen painting of a shooter and victim in action.
CHAPTER NINE: She’ll Be Apples Gallery: Eleven Rivington
What Happens in the Book: Cash escapes New York for Atlantic City; Matty, the detective, awaits the arrival of his own troubled kid.
What You’ll See in the Gallery: Robert Melee’s psychedelic-hued serving tray (a nod, perhaps, to the bright lights and artifice that await Cash); Amy Longenecker-Brown’s realist paintings of several pages from the book; Paul Gabrielli’s Untitled (Dumbbell), a seven-and-a-half-pound circular weight bearing the name of legendary American strongman Jack LaLanne.
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Rachel Wolff is a New York-based writer and editor who has covered art for New York, ARTnews, and Manhattan.