'Youth Explosion,' An Art Show Feat. India Menuez, Michael Bailey-Gates + More
It almost seems popular nowadays to bemoan the death of New York’s once flourishing arts scene. Every other month, an article is published—”ring the alarm! All the young creatives are moving to LA!” While it is true that the New York of today is not the city of old—the derelict town that birthed Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, Ken Jacobs, etc. now replaced by artisan coffee shops and overpriced vintage ’boutiques’—and while it is true that rents are high, New York, maybe because of its geography, history, or what have you, remains the place where things happen and the place to be. Those who think that artists are fleeing the city like rats from a sinking ship just aren’t looking hard enough.
Case in point was yesterday’s opening of artist and curator Marie Tomanova’s “Youth Explosion: The New Bohemia” at the Czech Center on the Upper East Side. It’s an unlikely locale for a show that sought to be more or less a definitive roster of the city’s up-and-coming, underground (read: Brooklynite) artists, but hopefully the posh zip code will lend it some attention from more established institutions. Tomanova, who quickly became enmeshed in New York’s arts scene after moving here from the Czech Republic, explains that the show’s focus is youth culture and “youth energy.” “That’s the energy that’s not afraid to experiment,” she says: “those are the artists who are pushing the boundaries, the artists who are exploring new ways.”
And push boundaries they did. Exhibiting artists included Milk faves Maya Fuhr (whose photo series, “Garbage Girls,” which we’ve previously covered, grapples with concepts like consumption, identity, and femininity), Michael Bailey-Gates (who showed three works from his “A Kentucky of Monsters” series, one striking expressionist visage rendered in his signature primary colors, and two blueprint-canvas semi-combines that touched on gender and sexuality), and India Salvor-Menuez (who displayed a literal “Big Bra” made with fabric, and a series of abstract nudes á la Willem de Kooning). Other objects on display included a Frosted Flakes box that instead said “I don’t know who I am anymore” by Grace Miceli, an altar at which to place flowers for Orlando murder victims courtesy of Nicky Ottav, and a series of wonderfully sensitive and beautifully composed portraits of downtown scenesters shot by Ethan James Green.
But perhaps the most spectacular (and I mean that in the truest sense of the word—spectacle) were the performances that occurred throughout the night. First came a tightly choreographed dance by a zebra-clad group called Legacy Fatale, followed by New York darlings Go!PushPops. Elisa Garcia de la Huerta and Katie Cercone, clad in braids, gaudy makeup, and in the latter’s case, sporting a bedazzled pregnant belly, were joined by David Williams (aka Undakova, an acronym for “universe naturally delivers all knowledge of vitality automatically”) and Gil Raitses. Undakova was quite undercover during the opening, spending the first few hours silently meditating with what he told me were “ben wa balls,” sitting in the lotus position under the gallery’s staircase, and later appearing to MC the performance. Ben wa balls, on first Google, appear to be sex toys (vs. baoding balls), and one wonders if, given what was to come, the choice of words were intentional.
The performance itself took the shape of a birthing ceremony: Cercone rapped, declaring herself “Ratchet Amma” as Garcia de La Huerta cut fruit and slathered it over her own shirt and Cercone’s belly, leaving the two artists stained and sticky. After a hip-hop sermon by Undakova, a small spontaneous dance party broke out with the pregnant “Ratchet Amma” shedding her shirt and leaving behind a caged, pink tricycle.
Ratchet Amma, who introduced herself as such, explained that “Amma is the hugging saint from India. She’s kind of like a contemporary Mother Teresa, but I was the Ratchet Amma: I’m in touch with my sexuality, and my yoni power. [The performance] was like a ritual reclaiming female power, natural birth – it’s kind of mimicking ecstatic birth.” She continued: “the thing is, spiritual leaders are very divorced from their sexuality, and that’s the primal power of the feminine: is the yoni, is the vagina, is the ecstasy of birth, and orgasm. That’s the original power of the divine feminine that was kind of erased from religion, and erased societally. So, when we see a figure like Amma, the hugging saint, she’s like this all-giving, loving, mother, but sort of like the Virgin Mary, she’s not in touch with her primal power: that’s still something that’s dirty, that has a race and a class association that affects people daily.” Huh.
The night concluded with a small concert by RAFiA, and beers on the Czech Center roof. While up there, two gallery-goers emerged from the crowd wearing t-shirts with plaster forearms sticking out from their stomachs, kind of like the scene from Alien, but with a hand palm-up. They weren’t exhibiting artists, but just people that stopped by. One started to use his extra hand as a cup holder for his beer. It’s obvious that, if not from the prior performance than at least the Alien-hands, despite rising rents, people are still finding ways to survive in New York, and on their own terms, too. Tomanova admits that “it’s really difficult to survive in New York City, because it’s a really corporate environment,” but she nonetheless remains adamant—and proves with her show—that “it’s still good, and manageable and possible to be an artist in New York City, and be young, and make things happen.”
Stay tuned to Milk for more rising artists.
Images courtesy of Marie Tomanova. Images of the performances by Tramaine George.