With its underground music, bohemian cafes, galleries and rare pockets of quiet, New York City has served as a demanding and mercurial muse to some of the most renowned artists in America. It continues this role today and likely will for decades to come.
A new show at Opera Gallery called "Muses: The City & The Artist" underscores that point with a star-studded gallery show featuring work by Alexander Calder, Willem de Kooning, Yayoi Kusama, Niki de Saint Phalle, Shepard Fairey, Keith Haring, Robert Indiana, Roy Lichtenstein, Michalene Thomas, Andy Warhol, Kehinde Wiley and many more. The show's on view now through December 7 at Opera Gallery (Madison Avenue and 67th Street) on the Upper East Side.
The exhibition begins with a quote by designer Le Corbusier: "A hundred times have I thought New York is a catastrophe, and fifty times: It is a beautiful catastrophe."
Across from the quote, an oversized map of Manhattan showcases key destinations in the arts, from schools and studios to bars and attractions. The Central Park Zoo is highlighted, for example, as a spot where Alexander Calder loved to sketch in the 1920s. The East Harlem location of Keith Haring's "Crack is Wack" mural is noted; he painted the artwork in 1986 at a handball court and was arrested soon thereafter. Another notation points out Yayoi Kusama's former loft space on Spring Street where she worked adjacent to Donald Judd.
While New York City's artistic prowess is nothing new, seeing so many iconic locations grouped together on a map is fascinating. This graphic representation serves as a reminder of how often we walk past significant places in art history day after day in New York City.
A hundred times have I thought New York is a catastrophe, and fifty times: It is a beautiful catastrophe.
The show features artists who made their home here and artists whose relationship with the city was transient. Curators wanted to examine the themes of cultural currency and artists' relationship with urbanism.
"The exhibition further explores the influence of fame, politics, and public policy on the development, destruction and/or disappearance of hallowed cultural ground in New York City," Opera Gallery said in a statement.
Despite the ephemeral nature of the built environment in New York City, stories live on through this show. There's the tale of Club 57, a nightclub in the basement of a Polish church where Haring hung out and Madonna sang. There's Tier 3, a short lived but influential night club where DJs performed at a booth Jean Michel Basquiat designed. There's the former location of Serendipity 3 where Warhol regularly stopped by for a lunch of a New York-style hot dog with sauerkraut, fries, and a frozen hot chocolate.
Those stories provide the foundation for the three-story gallery show where pieces like Mickalene Thomas' rhinestone-encrusted oil painting create a dialogue with Yayoi Kusama "I Carry on Living with the Pumpkins" and Tom Wesselmann's "Nu bleu # 19."
"We're really trying to explore that in-between territory of the euphoria of being here and also the lows," the gallery's communications manager Katherine McMahon tells Time Out. "I think both things can drive the artistic spirit forward."