Sometimes an art exhibition and the zietgeist collide and conspire to produce something truly remarkable. Such is the case with Tadashi Kawamata's "Tree Huts" on view in Madison Square Park through Feb. 15, 2009. I have returned to this outdoor meditation at all hours of the day from morning rush hour to the dark hush of 2 am, watching Kawamata's huts wither and rot in the snow and rain, precariously perched in the branches of several of the park’s trees.
Ninety percent of the funds about to be appropriated in the stimulus bill could pay off all the outstanding mortgages in the United States and unleash a rush of consumer confidence and spending overnight that would save our economy. But this is too radical even for President Obama, who is hiding behind right-wing tax cheat Timothy Geithner, the president's new Treasury Secretary, a protégé of his predecessor, the disgraced Hank Paulson. Even before he was confirmed, Geithner went to war against Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation czar Sheila Bair, who dared to suggest that TARP funds be used for mortgage relief. Geithner only wants to shield his banker buddies from the law and from accountability.
In such a depressing environment, Kawamata's sky-born huts have emerged as the perfect correspondent metaphor for the mortgage crisis, teetering in the treetops like the lullaby, "and down will come cradle, baby and all." Throughout its history, the United States has often made land grants to homeowners, whether under the Homestead Act, the GI Bill, even the granting of 40 acres and a mule to freed slaves, who quickly became indentured servants. The railroads were gifted with prime real estate and, today, under draconian eminent domain laws, homeowners are displaced for the latest mall or hotel.
Yet, when it comes to assisting the thousands of blue collar workers who bought a home on easy credit, even the so-called "liberal" Obama administration advocates a trickle down philosophy that would do Ronald Reagan, the fraud who commenced the establishment's love affair with debt, proud. In the meantime, we are all hut dwellers, caught between the earth and sky, as depicted by the glorious Kawamata.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).