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Longtime SoHo Artist Is Focus of Daughter's Documentary Premiering at MoMA

By Danielle Tcholakian | February 23, 2016 2:18pm
 Ida Applebroog at work in her studio in SoHo, which she has occupied for more than 40 years. She is the subject of a new documentary, made by her own daughter, artist-filmmaker Beth B.
Ida Applebroog at work in her studio in SoHo, which she has occupied for more than 40 years. She is the subject of a new documentary, made by her own daughter, artist-filmmaker Beth B.
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Call Her Applebroog

SOHO — The subject of a documentary slated to premiere at MoMA on Friday is a Bronx-born artist who has worked from a studio at the corner of Broadway and Broome Street for more than 40 years.

Ida Applebroog continues to produce new work well into her 80s. The film, "Call Her Applebroog," is the result of 15 years of footage pulled together by Applebroog's daughter, filmmaker Beth B. 

Applebroog first moved into her studio in 1978, and still feels that New York City is where she belongs.

But the changes SoHo underwent were difficult to witness, particularly the exodus of her colleagues that left her one of the neighborhood's last remaining artists.

"Suddenly people started disappearing," she said. "And that was very hard."

And the neighborhood, nearly always teeming with tourists and shoppers, is difficult terrain for an older person with difficulty walking.

"It's hard for me to walk out there with these hordes of people," she said. "It was mostly sweatshops and factories and now they've turned it into a shopping mall."

(That transformation prompted Beth B to leave her studio, once just a few doors down from her mother's.)

Applebroog said that as the neighborhood commercialized, new residents moved in with a lot more money than the artists had.

"The money became a problem, because most of us, we come out of doing our own basement work, [fixing] the freight elevator — we did it all ourselves.

"And then suddenly new people come in and they want to know where the super is," she said with a laugh.

Beth B was a student at the School of Visual Arts when Applebroog moved back to New York after years in Chicago and San Diego, which Beth B described as "hell on earth."

Both mother and daughter went through the same social and political movements living in New York, but with different eyes.

"I had come to New York at a sort of later age than most people who come to New York to be artists," Applebroog explained. "She was still a young art person and I was an old art person."

Applebroog, of a earlier generation and born to Orthodox Jewish immigrants from Poland, recalls urging her daughter to attend a class led by a feminist thinker, and Beth B retorted, "Mom, I really don't need permission not to wear lipstick."

Applebroog recalled thinking, "'She's right. What am I doing?'"

While Beth B had filmed her mother intermittently over the years, she didn't know she was making a film until very recently, she said. When she told her mother, Applebroog initially balked, and then assented.

"I thought, ‘Well, it’s fine. I’ll be way past dead'" when the film is finished, Applebroog said. "'I’m not going to be around, I don’t really care what she does with it.'

"And then she suddenly announces the film is done and I'm still alive!" Applebroog said.

The film is "a celebration of Ida as an artist," Beth B said. ("Spoken like a good daughter," her mother teased with a smile.)

"Call Her Applebroog" is "a non-traditional portrait of an artist," Beth B said. "For me, it was more about making emotional sense than intellectual sense."

"It's not the usual formulaic film that one sees when you look at an artist, living or dead," Applebroog said.

And making it allowed B to get her mother to talk about issues and memories, art and feminism among other reflections.

"She has a lot of walls and she doesn't like to talk," Beth B explained. "But as she's gotten older, she's started to talk more. And that's enabled me to kind of get into some of the things I wanted to talk about, and that eventually she wanted to talk about."

While it was "very hard" to watch herself the first time B showed her the movie, Applebroog said upon her second viewing, "I liked it very much."

Her daughter is "rather a good filmmaker," she said.

The film has its world premiere at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 26 as part of MoMA's Doc Fortnight 2016, presented by the museum along with art gallery Hauser & Wirth. Both mother and daughter will remain after the screening for a discussion.