Although I was born and raised in Harlem, and where I reside currently, I have a fondness for SoHo. Yes, everyone loves SoHo! It is one of the city’s trendiest neighborhoods for a reason. Its cobblestone streets are lined with galleries and famous boutiques such as Louis Vuitton and Anna Sui, interesting restaurants, vintage shops and some major shopping chains (think Victoria’s Secret and H&M). But SoHo is so much more than that and that is why it is one of my favorite areas. What I love most about SoHo is its architecture, the mix of old and new. I love its loft buildings, some cast-iron some brick, the old tenement buildings, the squat townhouses hidden in between them all and the glimpses of the old SoHo found in its graffiti ridden exteriors and the few loft buildings that haven’t been converted to hotels or condominiums. I also love its bumpy cobblestone streets, the way its streets are both narrow and loop around each other forming little coves and dead-end streets. Streets that seem to hold secrets. You can walk past the old residence of famous artists and current residence of a rich celebrity and not even know it. Even better are the magnificent artist spaces and private showrooms that are hidden within these buildings. Outside on the streets, artists hock everything from jewelry, clothing, books, paintings and postcards. You never know what you will find or who you will see in SoHo.
And the people---what a variety of people that stroll the streets of SoHo. Beautiful people, not-so beautiful people, blue collar workers, struggling artists, hip hoppers, punk rockers, tourists, sophisticates, rich and poor all seem to wander its grounds.
SoHo may be one of the hippest trips in the city but it seems to be losing much of its edginess. The downtown scene for which SoHo is a part of seems to be fading in this section of town in exchange for something that is more trendy and luxurious. At night, the streets are very quiet these days with few restaurants and shops remaining open after hours. There is not much late night action so to speak in SoHo. Yes, art is very much alive and well in SoHo and there are still glimpses of the old SoHo, but the days of the Downtown 500 seem to have faded long ago.
For those that do not know, the Downtown 500 were 500 young and up and coming musicians and artists that featured the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat. According to their official website, this group lived in SoHo and parts of the Lower East Side, specifically Alphabet City when both of these areas were not posh and trendy. Though I was just a child during the 1980s, I am nostalgic for this period and wish that an artist scene existed like this in New York. (I’m sure it does somewhere in the throes of Brooklyn but even that scene seems to be teetering on the brink of extinction. Yes, I’m a little cynical.) And I am not alone in this as the Downtown 500 is working hard to restore the art scene that fueled so much of the creativity in this city.
SoHo Night: Where Art Lives
While the edginess of SoHo has faded to gray, I found that art is very much alive in well behind the glass panes of art galleries and up the creaky stairs of warehouse buildings converted to lofts long ago. The art scene here may not be as vibrant as it was during the days of Basquiat, but there remains an effort to rejuvenate this scene and art lovers such as myself are much appreciative.
Recently, I went to SoHo Night an art walk held each year by the Armory Arts Center. It was wonderful to walk through all of these little galleries and artist centers with such fascinating exhibits. A full list of all of the exhibitions and places we visited are as follows:
SoHo Night is an evening of extended exhibition viewing and special programs by the not-for-profit visual arts institutions in SoHo.
apexart (291 Church Street) will hold extended hours. 6pm-8pm Art in General (79 Walker St.) will present a film screening in conjunction with Redmond Entwistle’s exhibition, Double-bill. 6pm-8pm Artists Space (38 Greene St.) presents Rip it Up and Start Again, co-produced with Kunstverein München. 6pm-9pm CITYarts (525 Broadway, Suite 700) will hold extended hours. 6pm-9pm The Drawing Center (35 & 40 Wooster St) presents Iannis Xenakis: Composer, Architect, Visionary and Spring Selections 2010. 6pm-9pm Harvestworks (596 Broadway) presents No Place: A Ritual of the Empathics by artist Saya Woolfalk. 6pm-9pm Location One (26 Greene Street) presents Yes, but... featuring Vik Muniz and work by artists-in-residence Alexandra Mota de Aguiar, Wojtek Doroszuk, Mattias Ericsson. 6pm-9pm The Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation (526 LaGuardia Place) presents an open house of Chaim Gross's sculpture studio. 6pm-8pmSwiss Institute (495 Broadway, 3rd Fl) will hold extended hours. 6pm-9pm
Source: Armory Arts
I joined an art lovers group for the tour and we met up our tour at the apexart center on Church Street and then went over to Art in General where we saw a small exhibit of modern artists using video and audio. Videos featured a 24 hour view of a street corner in the Soho-Tribeca area as day turned to night. Another piece was a video that showed a couple as they slept in bed using night vision. Yet another piece was suspended from the ceiling and one had to stand below the picture and look up to experience it. Some were cool, others bizarre, but all of them were contemporary expressions of art. Upstairs was an exhibit that featured photographs and images of war and other infamous dictators including Mao Zedong. There was also a film screening which we caught glimpses of as we passed through.
We wandered past Canal Street up to Greene Street where we stopped at Location One and Artists Space. On Wooster Street, we stopped in The Drawing Center for their exhibit: Iannis Xenakis: Composer, Architect, Visionary and Spring Selections 2010.
I was especially inspired by the works of Iannis Xenakis. He combined his love for art, architecture, music and math to form these intricate and beautiful technical drawings and illustrations. It inspired me so much as a writer who majored in Economics and loves art and music. His works recall an era when people didn’t watch as much television and were able to pursue multiple passions.
Our last stop was the New York Earth Room on Wooster Street, a staggering exhibit that features a 3600 square foot loft filled with 280,000 pounds of soil. The exhibit was installed by Walter De Maria in 1977. The soil was collected from a farm in Upstate New York or Connecticut depending on who you ask. It is the only Earth Room in the world, as two others in Germany closed some years ago. Surprisingly, the soil has remained there for 30 years. It has been cultivated and water by its gallery owners.
For those interested, there will be another SoHo Night hosted by apexart tomorrow on October 14, 2010. Many of the same galleries and art centers will be featured, most with new exhibitions. I will make attempts to go myself.
SoHo in the Future
The evolution of SoHo continues. It isn’t the artist haven or the hard and scrappy area it used to be in the 1970s or 1980s, but has transformed into a trendy area that appeals to people from various backgrounds and from all over the world. The commercial and real estate market for SoHo has continued to develop and brought about a grand transformation to this historical neighborhood.
All of these things are wonderful and should be appreciated. But as a lover of the arts and of the “old New York,” I would hate to see yet another neighborhood in New York City lose some of its most important characteristics. I know that I am not the only one. No matter what, SoHo remains one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city. It has so much charm and soul and that is what I like most about it.
Until next time.