Heightened by real estate developers and the New York real estate bubble, wealth is now in abundance, while aesthetics and community are at risk. Such hyper-consumerism is taking its toll on the arts scene, too, and ArtPrize’s charismatic billionaire founder, Rick DeVos, is as guilty as anyone else in making “an airy, outsize, ultra-fancy, and ever more ostentatious” picture of New York City in need of saving.
But art itself, in the broadest sense, still resists such a depressing appraisal, and there are signs of a glorious light emerging. In downtown Manhattan, the over-crowded neighbourhood surrounding Spring Street has recently received an infusion of money, skill, and imagination. This renaissance has brought together established institutions with young creatives, and interest in modern and contemporary art is rising again.
The blockbuster of the season is David Hockney: Painting, on view at the Museum of Modern Art from 28 February to 27 May. Hockney, who himself has amassed a personal fortune of £75m, will be traveling in style from a huge tent, onto a private plane, down a makeshift runway, across town, onto a motorbike, and finally onto his own private jet for the installation of Paintings—amassing more than 5,000 artworks—where he will spend the next few weeks attempting to paint one massive, continuous painting over the course of 50 hours.
The exhibition is the latest and by far the most ambitious undertaking by a major artist with a strong local interest—Hockney actually lives in Bel-Air, two blocks from the Museum of Modern Art—but it also points to a new generation of artists who have also recently bought into the city’s art scene. Back in February 2015, the Museum of Modern Art welcomed young wallscapes collective Fur-Lips, which signed up a team of 20 so they could paint “Six of my paintings: one in each room”. That same year, Dia:Beacon celebrated The Plot, a gigantic sculpture of sculptures and the cast of men who play them. And Last Winter presented a children’s exhibit called Furniture—a riff on the city’s architecture, vehicles, and stele columns—that provided over 20 labels of artists making artworks for children.
As cityscapes go, Hockney’s Paintings looks like one of the most historic displays of contemporary art anywhere in the world. If anything, it recalls Frank Stella’s Sun on Water installation in the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, which was a similarly obsessive endeavor to paint a wide array of objects—musical instruments, cello shells, steering wheels, starfish, and so on—for about 17 days straight.
The exhibit spans the 30,000 square feet of the MoMA, providing a landmark for any starstruck Wall Street types or snooty art tourists. The rooms are lined with the sumptuous layers of paint collected by the artist over decades—inventive techniques like rubbing and hitting canvases, and harkening back to the very first easel paintings that were used to hold fresh flowers in the early 19th century.
Hockney’s huge installation will also feature drawings from throughout his career, which the artist claims to have found “very therapeutic”.