Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Whoever Emerges

There's a freshly painted storefront at 221 East 88th Street in New York, on what is primarily a residential block. It's the kind of storefront I remember as a kid that was once common in New York. A wood frame door and a wooden window sash that juts out a bit from the entrance. There is an air conditioner balanced in the transom. The space is small. It looks like something that might have once been a Gypsy fortune telling parlor, or a place where they staged newspapers for Sunday deliveries. A place that would have been used even if the utilities weren't turned on. 

Completely empty, the place would look like what Wellington Mara's father Tim would have been talking about when he explained why the $600 he put up for the New York Giants franchise at the start of the NFL was worth it: "Even an empty store with two chairs in it is worth $600 in New York." 

But the store is hardly empty. It is filled with people. It is an art gallery, or installation space, if you will. Lined on the walls are selected obituary tributes as published by The Economist. And not just a few. There are well over 300, sheathed in acetate paper and pinned to the walls, reaching up to what I suspect is the artist's reach, given use of a medium size ladder. 

The obituaries abut each other on all sides. Wall tile. There is no particular order, certainly not alphabetical, and definitely not chronological. The Economist has been publishing since sometime in the 1850s, but they've only been doing obituaries for less than 20 years. The earliest one spotted was from 1992. 

So these are not only the departed, they are the fairly recently departed, from all walks of life; elected, defeated, enlisted, commissioned, employed, unemployed, appointed, self-appointed, widely-known, perhaps not so widely known. All people (and at least one animal) whose lives are summed up in what someone there at last night's opening described as "poetic biographies." Each biography is one magazine page, 1,000 words, with a picture of the subject. Sometimes black and white, sometimes color. All recognizable. 

Michael Brod, the artist and owner of the gallery, is a tall, thin, friendly man who emerges from the back to greet visitors and explain a few things. There is a low stone wall that runs along the perimeter of the tiny space. It separates those that are looking back from those that are looking at. 

Which one you are depends on you. 

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