Monday, February 24, 2014

Book Five: Art on the Block by Ann Fensterstock.

I can't remember the exact year I first traveled to New York City.  It must have been 16 or 17 years ago. What I can remember is how much I fell in love with the city. I was there for work where we were helping a client host a press event at the Equitable Tower very near Times Square. I still remember walking into the lobby of that building and being overwhelmed by the massive work, Mural with Blue Brushstroke by Roy Lichtenstein. That moment fueled an already developing love for modern and contemporary art. Just a year or two later, I set a goal to visit NYC every year for the rest of my life. Those annual visits have resulted in some amazing art experiences.

It's no surprise then, that in my let's-read-books-about-art phase I was drawn to Art on the Block: Tracking the New York Art World from SoHo to the Bowery, Bushwick and Beyond by Ann Fensterstock. This book tracks the rise and fall of art communities in and around the Big Apple. And it's a fascinating tale.

From SoHo to the Lower East Side and Alphabet City; Brooklyn to Chelsea, this book shows how the art world is almost always a step ahead of the realities of political movements and cultural trends.  Oh, and this book should be a must read for city planners everywhere. Want to rehabilitate derelict or crime-ridden neighborhoods? Bring in the artists, the musicians, the misfits. They're surprisingly adept at fueling gentrification.

Ann Fensterstock is a delightful, friendly writer who takes a subject that could be snooty and makes it accessible.  Sure, she drops names so frequently it gets a bit annoying.  You know those biblical passages where so and so begets so and so? There are plenty of those passages in this book.  I recognized a lot of the names but there were moments when I had no idea what Ann was talking about.  But I forgive her this because as an art fan, this book was super fun.  And it helped me understand why I love and respect many of the artists I do.

If you're not a fan of art, skip this book.  But if you have even a passing interest in the worlds of modern and contemporary art, this is a fantastic read.

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