The automobile has a very particular place in American culture. It’s central to countless films and novels, helping to drive (sorry) the narrative. Though cars do appear in art – in photography, painting and sculpture – they are less prevalent here though from the minimalist sculpture of the mid-twentieth century onwards there was certainly a clear interest in using industrial processes and making work that defied expectations about the nature of sculpture in particular. Expectations about painting had already been shattered by minimalism and abstract expressionism.
One of the aspects I enjoy the most when visiting New York is the city’s familiarity from film and television. No matter how often I visit – not often enough and never for long enough – the connection with the movies won’t ever completely fade. New York has played itself and pretended to be other, often imaginary, places. It’s great backdrop after all. Katia Liebmann’s 1997 series Gotham City uses New York as a backdrop to a series of masked self-portraits.
Nan Goldin, Nan One Month after Being Battered, 1984
Nan Goldin’s pictures from the late 1970s and 1980s provide a unique record of a slice of New York life at a time when hedonism was giving way to tragedy. The body of work she titled The Ballad of Sexual Dependency focuses on those who hung out around the Bowery where a hard-drug subculture met an emerging gay scene.
As a student in Boston, Goldin had shown her work in the form of Cibachrome colour prints; moving to New York she switched to showing work as slide shows often with a soundtrack and shown in clubs. The pictures were made using available light and most have a snapshot aesthetic. They document sexuality, drug use, domesticity and the sometimes violent relationships of Goldin and those she hung out with.
Joel Sternfeld, Looking South at 27th Street, September 2000 from Walking the High Line, 2002
Most cities have their forgotten spaces, but it still somehow surprises me that the High Line, the elevated railway that carried goods through Manhattan from the 1930s until 1980 was allowed to decay for more than two decades in a city where space is at such a premium. Thanks to a campaign by New Yorkers eager to see the derelict tracks reborn as a park the future of the High Line as a public space now seems secure.
Elmgreen and Dragset, Powerless Structures Fig. 101, 2012
If, in a public square in a capital city, you have an empty plinth intended for a statue of a figure on a horse then what better to put on it than a statue of a figure on a horse? After testing a lot of alternatives on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, the plinth that never quite got its statue, it should come as no surprise that the powers that be have yielded to the inevitable and installed the statue that was always meant to be there. Sort of.
More than a decade later, I still vividly remember seeing Andreas Gursky’s 1996 photograph Rhine for the first time. I knew Gursky’s work quite well – though it was, and is, always exciting to see them in real life – but I didn’t know this picture and there was just something about it. I still haven’t quite worked out what that something is but I do know that at that first viewing I stood in front of it for about 20 minutes, utterly mesmerised. Subsequent viewings of it and of Rhine II, made three years later and a subtle reworking of the image which has exactly the same hold over me and which is now the most expensive photograph ever sold at auction, having reached a price of $4.3m in November of last year, have been no briefer.
I love my bed. Most mornings while on my stupidly long commute, I find myself wishing I was still in it. So while I while away my journey day-dreaming of still being curled up under the duvet, here are some other beds both occupied and empty.
The bed in Félix González-Torres’s photograph is, in a way, simulataneously occupied and empty. The bed looks newly vacated – ready to welcome its occupants back before they have to face the day – but the picture is a memorial to the artist’s partner, Ross Laycock, after his death from AIDS. The crumpled sheet and pillows still bearing the indentations of the heads of those who slept there are both the trace of its occupants and reminder of the bed’s emptiness.The whiteness of the picture gives it a delicate beauty.