© Ellen Kooi

David Wojnarowicz: Untitled (burning boy), 1984
acrylic and map collage on mannequin, 51 x 22 x 26 inches

Big City Fall

Oscar Oiwa
, Carolee Schneeman, David Wojnarowicz, Martin Wong

Suddenly summoned to witness something great and horrendous, we keep fighting not to reduce it to our own smallness. From the viewpoint of a tenth-floor apartment in Brooklyn Heights, where I happened to be visiting some kin, the destruction of the World Trade Center twin towers had the false intimacy of television, on a day of perfect reception. (John Updike, The New Yorker, Sept 24, 2001)

Ford to City: Drop Dead (Daily News headline 1975)

Recently I was watching the Edo Bertoglio and Glenn O'Brien film "Downtown81". The film stars the artist Jean Michel Basquiat, and for its entirety he ambles through the Lower East Side from loft to club and back again. One scene in particular struck me and this is why I refer to it in this press release for the upcoming PPOW exhibition "Big City Fall". In the scene, Basquiat is walking down Clinton Street on the other side of Delancey. The background that encompasses him looks bombed out, like it could be 80's Beirut or present day Kabul. A lone brown brick tenement building stands next to an empty lot strewn with bricks and rubble, and the sky is bright blue but it may as well be ominous red. The scene behind Basquiat is the exact location of Martin Wong's painting "Sweet Oblivion". Early in his career, Wong often referred to himself as "the human instamatic," even creating a few paintings with that tag as a calling card. "Sweet Oblivion" is one of his paintings that now stand in as a record of the neglected city several years after the fiscal crisis of '75 and the blackout of '77. Viewing the painting now, post 9/11, it recalls the title of a David Wojnarowicz essay "In the Shadow of the American Dream, Someday this will all be Picturesque Ruins". In the Wojnarowicz essay, as well as in the installation in this exhibition, erected for the first time since the mid-eighties, his concern lay within the dying culture of America. Whereas Wong's painting reflects the urban blight of the area, Wojnarowicz' cityscape foreshadows his mortality. He later writes, "When I was told that I'd contracted this virus it didn't take me long to realize that I'd contracted a diseased society as well."

Both the eighties and the time directly after the terrorist attacks were extraordinarily trying moments for the city, but I couldn't help pondering how different viewing a destroyed urban center felt in 9/11's wake. In other words, when a big city falls, whether it is in the form of a sci-fi movie, dilapidation from urban flight, war footage, or terrorism, how do we sympathize with it? Oscar Oiwa's 2006 painting "Divina Comedia" depicts a drive from the hills outside of São Paolo through the slums of the city to the beach. Oiwa replaces the Brazilian city slums with that of the raw skeletal remnants of the World Trade Center. The slums, like Basquiat's ghetto, have disappeared in favor of ground zero. In contrast to Oiwa's slum, Carolee Schneemann's "Terminal Velocity" is an abstracted record of the actual terrorist attack and like that of her works "Vietflakes" and "Souvenir of Lebanon," Schneemann magnifies an already published event. "Terminal Velocity" rapidly and repeatedly plunges us down the slick metal of the two towers. By enlarging the photographs, like that of Antonioni's "Blow Up", there is an attempt to touch the victim, reveal a hidden truth, and seek justice.

Organized by Jason Murison

Exhibition: November 30 - December 23, 2006
Gallery hours: Tues-Sat 10 am - 6 pm

555 W 25th Street
(between 10th and 11th Avenues)
USA-New York, NY 10001
Telephone +1 212 647-1044
Fax +1 212 647-1043
Email info@ppowgallery.com