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Pop-Up Art Show Strives to Confront South Bronx Gentrification

By Eddie Small | December 9, 2015 5:03pm
 The No Longer Empty Curatorial Lab has put together a pop-up art show at 900 Grand Concourse.
Bronx Art Show at 900 Grand Concourse
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CONCOURSE — Curators of a pop-up art show in the South Bronx are determined to confront the area's gentrification fears and avoid the accusations of insensitivity that have befallen several previous shows in the borough.

The No Longer Empty Curatorial Lab, a program that the arts group No Longer Empty offers to help emerging art curators, recently set up an exhibit at 900 Grand Concourse called "Intersecting Imaginaries" that centers on the theme of literal and conceptual mapping.

The show includes works like a map of the constellations one can see from 900 Grand Concourse in November and December interspersed with bits of junk mail and consumer product packaging, as well as a short video of teenagers and baseball fans confronting each other right before a game at Yankee Stadium to demonstrate the occasionally tense relationship between locals and tourists in The Bronx.

Curators Mary Kay Judy and Emilia Shaffer-del Valle said they were hoping to make their exhibit reflect political and social issues facing the South Bronx and avoid being met with the type of derision that other art shows in the borough have faced, specifically the display at a recent party held by real estate developers Somerset Partners and The Chetrit Group.

That show, which included bullet-ridden cars, offended many Bronxites, who viewed it as invoking old stereotypes of their borough as a dangerous place. An exhibit by No Longer Empty at the Old Bronx Borough Courthouse earlier this year prompted concerns about incoming gentrification as well.

Judy said she was hoping for "Intersecting Imaginaries" to get a warmer reception from the community.

"While certainly we inherited some of the legacy of the courthouse, I think we were all looking at this with fresh eyes," she said. "I do think that we were extra conscientious in thinking things through."

"It was really important that we didn't come in here with any preconceived ideas about what the exhibit should be because that's not the point," echoed Shaffer-del Valle. "It should be site responsive."

One piece in particular at the exhibit deals very directly with the gentrification worries plaguing many Bronxites: Jerome Avenue Workers, a series from the Bronx Photo League that aims to document the people and jobs that would be impacted by the city's plans to rezone part of Jerome Avenue for residential development.

"There are people who have been there for more than 30 years," said Bronx Photo League filmmaker Giacomo Francia. "There are businesses that have been there for 60, 70 years, so that’s what we wanted to talk about."

Making these types of social issues central to the display was a conscious decision for the curators, who viewed it as a way to accurately reflect where they were hosting their exhibit.

"We are aware of the tension, and we are not shying away from it," said Shaffer-del Valle. "We want people's voices to be heard in our space as much as they can."

Ed García Conde, founder of the blog Welcome2TheBronx, described the show as a huge success in terms of accurately dealing with local concerns.

"I think they did an excellent job in curating an exhibition that's reflective of the space and borough they inhabit," he said. "The exhibition speaks to many issues, from urban decay to gentrification."

Linda Cunningham, a Bronx artist featured in the exhibit, agreed, stressing that the role of the art show was to depict gentrification, not cause it.

"The art exhibitions are talking about it. We are raising the issues. We’re the people who portray it," she said.

"The exhibition doesn’t cause gentrification," she continued. "The exhibition is exposing it."