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The Evolution of Art Downtown II: Connecting Collections

The non-profit project “Wall Street Rising” is finding novel ways to breathe new cultural life into the banking district of downtown Manhattan. On October 22 2004, well-known New Yorkers such as the theater director Robert Wilson, the designer Diane von Furstenberg, and Russell Simmons, the founder of the legendary record label “Def Jam,” will be acting as curators of an unusual exhibition: in the framework of “Art Downtown II: Connecting Collections,” works from the curators’ private collections will be shown together with selected pieces from the Deutsche Bank Collection in the former bank building at 48 Wall Street. At the same time, the bank will be acting as main sponsor of the event. For db artmag, Cheryl Kaplan had a look at the show’s preparations.

Robert Wilson and Liz Christensen at 48 Wall Street
©Photos: Cheryl Kaplan, New York, All Rights Reserved

Robert Wilson descends the grand circular stairway of 48 Wall Street, formerly the Bank of New York, the city’s oldest bank and one-time offices of Alexander Hamilton. Wilson makes his way to a large, now vacant space adjacent to the lower lobby, and soon paces up and down, carefully plotting out where each of his tableaus will be housed during the upcoming exhibition, Art Downtown II: Connecting Collections. In the hour Wilson has between the trip down from Watermill, NY, where he spent the summer working on his performances, and a flight to Hamburg, he’s more surveyor than director. His hands glide across an invisible wall. He turns to his assistant and says: “Three feet high.” He looks up at a small street-level window and says: “Eliminate it.” Then he turns to curator Liz Christensen, asking: “You’ve been to Vestry Street, yes?” Liz nods. “We’ll use the chairs from Vestry Street and Watermill and probably add a few sculptures.” Wilson leans against a corner and drafts an entire architectural scheme in seconds while everyone watches. Finally he adds: “Fax me the specifics, I can look at this on the plane to Hamburg.” Never mind that the room is now a jumble of hanging wires and slightly dented columns – in the hands of Robert Wilson, all will soon be transformed to an immaculately staged white space where a series of his drawings from the Deutsche Bank Collection will be meticulously placed within several installation tableaus featuring 40 chairs and sculptures from the artist’s private collection.(More about Robert Wilson's tableaus here)

Robert Wilson working at 48 Wall Street
©Photos: Cheryl Kaplan, New York, All Rights Reserved

If anything can best summarize the concept for Connecting Collections, it is transformation. The exhibition locates contemporary art within two historic contexts, one architectural and the other related to the post 9/11 mission of Wall Street Rising, a non-profit organization founded by Julie Menin, President and Executive Director. The organization’s goal is to help redefine Lower Manhattan as an arts and cultural destination. This was first realized in 2002 with Art Downtown I under the curatorial direction of Richard D. Marshall. Then, Deutsche Bank was a sponsor of a series of five exhibition spaces throughout the Financial District that included over 110 works from artists such as Louise Bougeois, Jenny HolzerCindy Sherman, Robert Mapplethorpe, Thomas Struth, and Vanessa Beecroft.

Mark Dean Veca: Old Fashioned, 2001
Deutsche Bank Collection

Wall Street Rising offers both cultural and community-based programs and events to promote foot traffic throughout the area. Executive Director Julie Menin describes Art Downtown II as “an incredibly important tool in the revitalization of Lower Manhattan, creating art exhibits which are open late at night and on weekends to plant the seeds for the neighborhood’s cultural re-growth.” Deutsche Bank is the lead sponsor for Art Downtown. As Ms. Menin says: “We wanted to collaborate with Deutsche Bank because of their world-renowned collection as well as the critical role they played in the revitalization, bringing 5,000 employees downtown. We’re delighted to have such stellar guest curators as Mikhail Baryshnikov, Diane von Furstenberg, Danny and Russell Simmons, as well as Robert Wilson, who represent such a broad and diverse range of disciplines from music to dance, theater, and visual art.”

The organizing concept for this exhibition focuses on the relationship and pairing of works existing in the guest curator’s personal collection, including works the curators felt would respond to the Deutsche Bank Collection. The exhibition has been organized under the auspices of Liz Christensen in New York and Dr. Ariane Grigoteit and Friedhelm Hütte (Global Heads Deutsche Bank Art) in Frankfurt. As Ms. Menin acknowledges: “There isn’t a major contemporary art museum south of Chambers Street, so it’s imperative to provide these cultural offerings.”

Mural by James Monroe Hewlett, Wall Street 48 ©Photo: Cheryl Kaplan, New York, All Rights Reserved Video still: Chris Doyle, Leap (2000) © Creative Time, New York, 2004

Meanwhile, upstairs at 48 Wall Street, a team of curatorial planners glance across murals depicting colonial and industrial American history painted in 1929 by the American artist James Monroe Hewlett. Dancer and choreographer Mikhail Baryshnikov has selected WE WILL AGAIN BE OPTIMISTS, a work based on a public art project called LEAP by artist Chris Doyle originally created in 2000. Four video projections will feature New Yorkers taking a solo leap in the air. The projected figures will parallel the size of the figures in the 1929 murals and will be projected into the mural itself as an intervention that overwrites history.

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