Thursday, July 17, 2008

Lost in History vol. 66: Art Revival, by way of Queens

On the corner of Onderdonk and Harman streets in southern Ridgewood lies a church façade. As spelled out bilingually on purple canvas, the previous occupant of this space was the Christian Center Sanctuary of Hope, a Roman Catholic Latino congregation. The new occupants of the space are also called the Christian Center Sanctuary of Hope, but with an entirely different bend to their professed spirituality. There hasn’t been a straight-up religious sermon in the Center for years, but this past Saturday night, a different kind of sermon was held, spiritual in nature but preaching art and aesthetics, noise and performance, and the very strange story of a very famous artist and his attempts to buy oddly shaped lots at tax auctions in NYC.
We know the backstory because we are friends with the occupants of the Christian Center Sanctuary of Hope, and they asked us to emcee the evening’s events. The good men who live at the Sanctuary — three literary and visual artists by the names of Matthew Blair, Lech Szporer and Andrew Wingert — have built lofts and incorporated the layout of the former church into a communal performance space. They opened on Saturday with a Revival that featured installation art, sculptures, music, tap dance, mime, an exercise bike that masturbated a man in a lazy chair, feedback noise, preaching, and a mysterious excursion that led to a former piece by the aforementioned very famous NYC artist. Lesser known (but no less serious) artists included yours truly, along with David Button, Trevor Lukert, Superman’s Guestlist, Marisa Mickelberg, Issac Zal, the Buddy Hollyco$t, Amery Kessler, Carrie Fox, Shana Paleologos, Andrew Hurst, Phillip Battikha, Ryan Brown, and Justin Horne. And of course, Gordon Matta-Clark.
Matta-Clark was not present at the opening — he died in 1978, at the age of 35, of pancreatic cancer. During his short but powerful life he was known for various artistic experiments and performances as well as for catalyzing SoHo as an artistic neighborhood during the derelict 70s. His works, called “anarchitecture”, involved removing pieces and slivers of buildings before they met the wrecking ball; he opened a restaurant/ongoing performance piece in SoHo called Food, staffed entirely by working artists; he also purchased tiny, unusable slivers called “gutterspace” of NYC real estate during the city’s regular purging of such lots. Due to surveying, zoning and public-works anomalies, various infinitesimal slices of real estate came to be owned by Matta-Clark, who found in them a perfect bureaucratic extension of his own anarchitecture. Fourteen lots were located in Queens and one in Staten Island. Unfortunately, Matta-Clark passed away before he could do whatever he was intending to do with these lots, and the ownership passed over to his wife, who eventually stopped paying taxes on them; control reverted back to the city. One of these lots — Lot 116 — is walking distance from the Christian Center Sanctuary of Hope, and the evening’s high point included a walk to the Lot, and a sermon about separate spaces.
As the preacher-on-site, we weren’t all that prepared for the crowd of 100 artists, gallery fags, rockers, intellectuals, confused locals, friends and family. We also didn’t know that much about Matta-Clark, or how to talk about this sliver space —2’3” wide by 355’ long – in order to make it applicable to the crowds and the evening’s events. We eventually focused on the relationship between this sliver space and the rest of the alley, and how it reflects the separate spaces inside each of us, and how they relate to the rest of us. It was complicated. Whiskey fueled most of the preaching. But it was intense. We had a few Amens! and Hallelujahs! Afterwards, when the crowd had calmed down, we all returned to the church to continue that perennial method of moving with the spirit — we had a dance party.

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