Long ago I moved to a magical land called the Lower East Side. It was the perfect place for an elf. Giant rats roamed freely. Enchanted herbs could be purchased on every corner and rent was dirt-cheap. I started an open mic, wrote books praising my beloved kingdom and opened a Troll Museum in my sixth-floor walkup fortress.
But as the new millennium dawned, a horrific transformation occurred in the realm south of Houston and east of the Bowery. Velvet ropes appeared. Fancy dress shops opened up along with bars that served $9 beers, and the theater where I’d hosted my open mic for a decade was bulldozed to make room for luxury housing. As the sun set each night the streets resembled a scene from Girls Gone Wild Cancun.
I cursed the evil emperor Giuliani for placing the scourge of normalcy upon the land. In my sadness I swallowed a charmed potion containing many ounces of Budweiser and went into a deep slumber.
When I awoke a year later (to the sound of a 22-story building being erected in my backyard), another change had transpired. The New Museum had risen like the Dark Tower of Mordor on the Bowery and dozens of art galleries had followed suit, popping up mere blocks from my abode. Though anything that might raise property values around my home fills me with unease, I was somewhat delighted at the transformation. Now going to see art would be as easy as going to the corner to get a slice -- no more panic attack-inducing trips on the F Train.
I emailed my editor and asked if I could write a story about this new development. He approved and sent me links to several LES art galleries’ web sites.
My adventure began the first Wednesday of spring. Unlike galleries in Chelsea, most LES galleries don’t open till hump day, a good thing since I par-tayed a little too hard during the Equinox and needed the two extra days of rest.
The first show I visited was Georganne Deen’s "The Love That Has No Opposite" at Smith-Stewart, where a painting of a girl and a sloth called out to me through the window. I’d spent the previous day wasting my life watching sloth videos on YouTube, having plummeted into a weeklong sloth obsession after learning that they "do it" upside down.
Inside the gallery, I quickly became an obsessed Georganne Deen fan. The paintings feature girls and women frolicking with adorable animals and mythological creatures in what seems to be a parallel universe / fantasyland where neither men nor work exist. In The Love That Has No Opposite, a g-string clad woman with a bouffant prays to an oversized Meerkat. (Possibly "Flower" from Meerkat Manor?) The Meerkat appears throughout this show, spooning with, feeding and holding the woman. They wear a look of tranquility, possessed by an inner peace that could only exist in a world without dudes or responsibilities.
Like most obsessed fans, I began to believe that Deen was speaking directly to me. (I used to think the same thing about Duran Duran.) In The Sauceboxes, a girl tastes the hand of an elf that looks exactly like me, if you overlook its furry legs. In A Spin in the Teacups (Is a Must) a girl kisses a baby gorilla while riding amusement-park teacups. My mother went into labor with me while riding the teacups at the Enchanted Forest Amusement Park in Maryland. Coincidence?
But enough about me: I don’t know why Georganne Deen isn’t more famous or collected by museums. Maybe it’s because girls with adorable animals aren’t considered very cool in the art world, which is prone to a disease I like to call "too-much-hipness."
Before leaving Smith-Stewart, I picked up a "Lower East Side Gallery Guide" handout and was disappointed to find the Troll Museum had been omitted. I guess this means the Troll Museum is so cool that it’s flying under the radar.
From Smith-Stewart, I made my way down to DCKT Contemporary’s new space on the Bowery, where a solo show by Josh Azarella features doctored photos and videos of historic events. In each piece, key elements have been erased from famous photographs. A still of Lee Harvey Oswald holding his rifle is shown sans the rifle, a photograph of the My Lai Massacre is without the dead bodies, Abu Ghraib without the tortured prisoners. Clearly this is not the "feel good" show of the year, but a spine-tingler that poses the chilling question, "What if?"
My next stop was Simon Preston Gallery on Broome Street, where I noticed a few of my neighbors gathered around the window sporting looks of revulsion. "Ew, is that a dead rabbit?" one of them said, before scurrying away. Fearful, I stepped inside, where I found a complicated animatronic sculpture that shot stage blood onto the wall from a prosthetic human arm which was wrapped by the body of taxidermied rabbit. It was scary. I wanted to go back to looking at peaceful Meerkats.
Due to lack of economic stimulus, I cut short my first day of LES gallery-hopping to go to my day job, but headed out a few nights later for a couple hot openings. I brought along my Chihuahua, Reverend Jen Junior (who traveled in my bag), and my friend, George C., a photographer and astrologer to the art stars. Our first stop was Reena Spaulings, where we were met with a massive bucket of Budweiser and a huge crowd of miserable-looking hipsters.
"Everyone looks so sad," I said.
"I know. How can they be so sad with all this beer?" George asked.
We took in the show -- "Artist Writer Mentalist: Ergriffenes Dasein," a hodgepodge of paintings, collages and sculpture by Michaela Eichwald.
"This looks like a serial killer did it," George said, stopping in front of a neo-expressionistic painting of a face with the words "animals at war memorial" scrawled under it. It was titled Animals at War Memorial.
"What about that one?" I asked, pointing to the smaller abstract piece beside it.
"That looks like late-night indigestion."
"What’s that? I want it!" I said, suddenly distracted by a shiny object atop a pedestal. Upon closer inspection the shiny object, a mushroom-shaped sculpture titled Neues aus dem Ahrtal, turned out to be a grouping of found objects trapped in resin: a watch with no face, a bunch of mussels, pills and coins.
"It’s like a grab bag for the after-world," George observed. "Now this one," he said, referring to Volvic Architecture Milfina, another found-object piece, "looks like a bong that went horribly wrong."
It did look like maybe a stoner had fallen asleep during ceramics class, accidentally melting their bong. I wondered if you could smoke out of it.
"You know, I think the door is my favorite thing about this show," I said pointing to a mysterious, tiny door in the middle of the gallery wall. "It looks like it might lead to Narnia!" My fantasy was squashed moments later when it was propped open to reveal not Narnia, but a commonplace fire escape.
Not wanting to miss the other opening we reluctantly left the bucket of Budweiser and headed over to Ludlow 38. On the way two lost (and sufficiently miserable) hipsters stopped us.
"Are you looking for Reena Spaulings?" I inquired.
"Yes," they said, impressed.
After giving them directions we found Ludlow 38 (located conveniently at 38 Ludlow Street) where a group show called "The Real World" is on view. The place was jammed, mostly with German people who were busy devouring several, possibly hundreds, of cases of Grolsch.
"I feel like I’m back in Germany," I said feeling nostalgic for my recent adventure there.
"It’s great. It’s like we just left the country."
It was too packed to see the art on the walls so we wandered into the back room where a video, Schema (Television) by Sean Snyder was playing. We sat down and were immediately transfixed as a barrage of images assaulted our eyeballs: static signals, news reports, dancing eggs, a man in a chicken costume, bouncing kangaroos, weather reports and more. Each remained onscreen for only a second or two.
It was like channel surfing without having to use the remote, almost like we were telepathically channel surfing.
"This is heaven," I said.
"This is what you see if you do too much acid," George said.
We sat through the video twice before reluctantly giving up our seats. We wanted to watch it over and over, but worried it might be some kind of mind-control device.
"You should really watch the video," told random strangers groggily, like a drug addict trying to turn others on.
Once we’d spread the word about the video to anyone within earshot, we hit the road. It was getting late. Jen Junior was nodding out. Within two minutes, I was home, nestled under my unicorn blanket. As I drifted off to sleep, I thought about the burgeoning LES art scene. I enjoyed the cozier spaces, the buckets of beer and the fact that there are a lot more people on the streets of the LES than there are in Chelsea. In fact, not one but two crazy people accosted me on my gallery walk! Mostly though, I enjoyed the two-minute stroll home.
REVEREND JEN is an art star, urban elf, troll museum founder and up-and-coming celebrity personality. Her new book, self-published, of course, is titled Art Star: The Adventures of an Underachieving Visionary, and can be found on lulu.com.