I always like to discover new places when I visit New York, and one of those on my most recent trip was the Bronx Museum.
From the D train, one alights at the 167th Street station along the Grand Concourse. Two blocks south is the museum’s impressive new building. The structure is a start metal facade with odd angles and geometric details that one often sees in contemporary buildings. But the repeating patterns also evoke the old narrow apartment buildings that used to cover this an many other sections of the Bronx. Inside the lobby, a large installation by Bronx-born conceptual artist Vito Acconci fills the space with airy undulating shapes that complement the exterior architecture.
It turns out this piece is made from Corian, which the artist uses to make solid but seemingly pliable forms. The numerous holes allow air and light to become part of the piece. I think the protrusions that look like seating are in fact seating for visitors, but I did not ask. (As an interesting side note, it turns out that Acconci has already been mentioned on this blog in this review closer to home.)
One gallery featured paintings and works on paper by the Cuban-American artist Emilio Sanchez, all depicting commercial buildings from the Hunts Point neighborhood. Hunts Point is at the southern edge of the Bronx, known for its huge produce market and concentration of auto-repair shops.
These colorful canvases strip the buildings and street down to essential elements, the rectilinear forms of the structures and lettering of the signs.
The sources for these paintings were images from the 1980s, a time when the Bronx had gone through a precipitous multi-decade decline that give the borough its reputation. None of the urban decay that was undoubtedly present on the streets at the time is present in these pieces. Indeed, the colorful palette and idealized shapes celebrate the neighborhood.
Also on display was a large exhibition entitled Muntadas: Information >> Space >> Control by the artist Antoni Muntadas. Through video, photographs and other media, the artist explores “the relationship between public and private space, the media, how information is conveyed, interpreted, and manipulated, and the way that public opinion is shaped.” One wall featured five photographs of scenes from the Bronx, with the opportunity for visitors to write the own responses. Among the photographs were the infamous Charlotte Street building facade from the late 1970s, and a more recent image of a girl interacting with a gorilla at the Bronx Zoo.
Both of these are familiar aspects of frequent visits to the Bronx as both a child and an adult, the bleak landscape of the 1970s and 1980s and the natural oasis and curiosity of the zoo. As such, this was the most personal aspect of the exhibition. The other pieces, which included videos, images and printed words taken out of their original context, was interesting, but not quite as resonant. Though I did enjoy seeing a clip from Goddard’s Alphaville among the images.
Although my visit was during the museum’s free Friday evening, it was almost empty. This gave the space a bit of a lonely feeling, but also complete freedom and peace to enjoy the galleries. Granted, it was the Friday after Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping day of the year, and an exceptionally warm evening for late November in New York, so I hope the emptiness I saw was an exception. Nonetheless, I am glad I had the chance to finally visit, and it was great to see the positive changes that are happening in the area. I strongly recommend a trip north on the D line to check out the museum and its surroundings.