to the Bronx’s (NYC) Grand Concourse to inspect deco gems a few years ago, I stumbled on the Andrew Freedman house. This 1924 confection was originally built not as a sumptuous private home but as a sanctuary for the formerly well-heeled elderly who had fallen on tough times during a difficult economic era. A self-made millionaire and a financier of the 4-5-6 subway train, Andrew Freedman created a manor home with all the amenities and trappings of the well-to-do, continuing an elegant lifestyle for older residents no longer able to manage.Venturing
On my April northern excursion I was fortunate to read information regarding a germane and thought-provoking exhibit currently held in the mansion and executed by the competent NO LONGER EMPTY group. NLE’s website clarifies their mission: “...to widen the audience for contemporary art by presenting high-caliber, site-specific public art exhibitions in the heart of communities.”
The Freedman mansion’s nursing home for the once rich had closed in 1980; the years hence have been bumpy and uneventful, housing a children’s day care in the basement most recently. The all-but-abandoned home was a perfect fit for the NO LONGER EMPTY organization to produce this 32 artist show entitled “This Side of Paradise”. The chosen artists were each given a room to conjure an experimential installation. Every site and topic is so thoughtfully interwoven into the decaying fabric of Andrew Freedman house and the Bronx’ complicated history that a quick drive-by turned out to be a most layered event.
Miami artist Federico Uribe is front and center with the outside metal slat fencing adorned with colored electrical wire fashioned into flower petals on the bottom, and white wood-cuts of gamboling goats across the fence top. I was informed the coat of arms of the Andrew Freedman house is goats and flowers. In one of the main living areas was a Persian “rug” in front of a fireplace made from Uribe’s ubiquitous bits and pieces of found objects. Uribe describes his piece: "I built a carpet that is woven of memories of things they left behind when they moved to the Freedman house, rituals, spaces dinners beauty treatments etc that can step upon their past. "
A Chicago artist represented by Wynwood’s ground breaking Dorsch Gallery, Cheryl Pope is well known for addressing relevant topics with a clear eye. Her message with “Then & Now” at the Freedman is simple and to the point: a naturally decaying wall of peeling paint is mirrored by a ceiling of peeling gold leaf to brilliantly and concisely communicate the wealthy but down-on-their-luck elderly denizens that originally inhabited the Home.
I spoke with Manon Slome, President and Chief Curator of NO LONGER EMPTY: "It was a wonderfully creative experience working out all the installations for the exhibition with the artists. They became so involved with the strange history of the space and how at odds that was with the Bronx as it is now and produced some very powerful responses. Federico Uribe's pieces are a case in point. The Home used to have fabulous upholstery and rugs and so he created a Persian "rug" out of myriads of daily objects that would have typified their lives before the residents entered the Home - keys for their homes, the cutlery for their many dinners, golf balls from the games they played etc; then the inner sections of the rug recall their lives in the Andrew Freedman Home, measured time, crutches, arts and craft activities. Very moving as well as spectacular to look at.”
An aerosol artist well known to us Dade-ites, Shepard Fairey has one of his face posters applied to an outside wall, underlining the Bronx’ role in the birth of graffiti. (Exhibition through June 5th)
The Freedman house will be opening the south wing as a B&B in the next few weeks. Intriguing. I was privy to a tour and the rooms are very nicely done.
Don’t you just love unearthing creative dust bunnies by poking in corners; metaphorically speaking, of course? Trying that stunt in your own house would be tantamount to summoning insanity.
It’s remarkable what creative mischief mortals can get up to if left to poach in a fertile petrie dish of keen minds.
“The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.” Khalil Gibran
P.S. My few weeks in NYC have anted up a potpourri of delightful cultural baubles occurring in off-the-grid corners: the partially refurbished and historic Brooklyn Navy Yard (Bldg 92) and museum, Blue Bottle Coffee with a halogen-powered siphon bar and nel drip coffee, Brooklyn’s wildly exuberant Dekalb Market with young ‘uns proffering ideas such as non-sporty bicycle gear for women (handmade baskets, or little air-tube tops in neon colors), or melding sweet and savory food ingredients with wild abandon. Toss in a band or two to bebop your way through the market on a bright spring day and VOILA!: Life is good again.