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LaToya Ruby Frazier
LaToya Ruby Frazier in a production shot from Art21’s online docu-series New York Close Up


June 6, 2011

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Sex! Lights! Electric guitars! That’s what being an artist in New York City is all about, or so it seems from the trailer for the new Art21 documentary series New York Close Up, which launches June 13, 2011. Focusing on young (and pretty) artists "in the first decade of their career," the show could turn out to be a livelier, “lifestyle” version of the rather staid and responsible, Peabody Award-winning program Art:21, which premiered on PBS in 2001. New York Close Up is to be viewable only online, at its own dedicated website, New York Close Up.

The trailer is filmed Real World-style, opening with a pumping bass track and sweeping views of graffiti-covered buildings. Amid the speeding subway-car and ambulance-light B-roll, viewers are introduced to each character: there’s the wildcard, performance artist Shana Moulton, writhing on stage under psychedelic lights; the not-here-to-make-friends video artist LaToya Ruby Frazier, glowering at the camera from a gray street corner (a shot reminiscent of her celebrated self-portrait video set against a gritty Pennsylvania steel mill); the mysterious loner, animator and sculptor Tommy Hartung, working in a dark, purple-lit studio; the potential heartthrob, photographer Lucas Blalock, flexing his tattooed bicep; and, of course, the celebrity, Kalup Linzy, smiling for the mob of photographers alongside friend and art partner James Franco.

The five-part season highlights two artists each week in the straightforward, interview-and-studio-visit format employed by the original Art:21. After the season ends, however, the nonprofit plans to release another eight to 12 short films throughout the year that emphasize the day-to-day lives of the ten artists, as well as their interactions with one another.

“There are more chances for cross-fertilization because it’s a group of artists that are all young and all in New York,” said Art21 managing director Eve Moros Ortega. “There are more interrelationships between them.”

Needless to say, the visual art world is hip deep in the confession-cam craze. The second season of Bravo's Work of Art art-game-show is well into production -- details are top secret, though judges Jerry Saltz and Bill Powers, plus auction impresario Simon de Pury are all back for another go-round. Bravo is also preparing a reality show called Gallery Girls, focusing on the young women of New York’s “hippest galleries.”

But, unlike the contestants in Work of Art, most of the Art21 artists have established careers. About half of them were included in PS1’s “Greater New York” show, including Hartung, Linzy, Mariah Robertson and Frazier, who gained acclaim two years before for her darkly stirring series of family photographs in the New Museum’s “Younger than Jesus” show. Robertson’s dramatic neon-noir photograms are part of the Charles Saatchi collection and have been the subject of several solo shows, including at the late, lamented Guild and Greyshkul gallery in SoHo. And Chicago-New York artist Rashid Johnson’s racially charged black-and-white photography has been exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum, the Whitney Museum and the Institute of Contemporary Photography, among others.

The launch party for the series takes place on June 23, 2011, at the Ace Hotel in midtown Manhattan. Kalup Linzy, naturally, is manning the turntables.

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James Franco and Kalup Linzy
James Franco and Kalup Linzy in a production still from New York Close Up