Art Tours: Strangers and Crowd

This is how I commuted when I was in school for about 5 years in Tokyo. Pretty hardcore. Looking back, I don’t even know how I did it without losing my mind. 

So commuting in NYC should feel almost luxurious to me, but it doesn’t. In fact, I think about moving out of the city solely based on avoiding the commute daily. I feel irritated by observing rude and self-centered people without “omoiyari” that this city people used to seem to have.

But I think I found a solution to my crowd frustration. It works for the most part. To remember that each one of them has a story. That the guy in front of me, who is not giving up his seat to an elderly lady, actually may have been up for 38 hours straight, waiting for his wife to deliver their baby, while waiting tables. Or that guy, who is completely oblivious to his surroundings, may have the presentation of his life, later at 10:30am. Or that guy with the headphones with leaking loud annoying beats with his short legs spread as wide as they can, or that guy who’s engrossed in playing Candy Crush with his iPhone screaming “delicious!” and “sweet!,” well… my annoyance takes over again and I don’t care what their stories are.

Face in the Crowd by Alex Prager at Lehmann Maupin Gallery in Chelsea took me by pleasant surprise that someone tackled this subject of crowd. She shot large-scale photographs with impressive level of details. You see meticulously staged crowd scenes, with each individual costumed and made up in the 1930’s to 1980’s styles. No one is making eye contact with anyone else. There is something very eerie and awkward about these photographs. There is a sense of emptiness, despite a lot is happening in each frame. These disconnected characters in the crowd reminded me of how relationships are in this day and age of our social network culture.

Prager also shot a three-channel video installation, starring Elizabeth Banks. The experience is immersive, and in this video my hubs shot (AlexPrager_02), you will see a crowd starting to form at the end in front of us. It’s kind of a case of the reality meets art, we’re all strangers in this tiny viewing room, sharing the same experience but not interacting with each other.

I’m a huge fan of personal space. When people other than my hubs and close friends step into my personal space which may be slightly bigger than the average, I feel extremely uncomfortable. As I mentioned earlier, during my commute, I constantly feel violated and agitated. My friends at work actually suggested that we make April a Personal Space Month for me, which meant me hugging a random coworker they pick a day, and let’s just say I’m glad it’s May.

When Merrily took us to the exhibition at Aperture Gallery by Richard Renaldi called “Touching Strangers” and explained that in this series, Renaldi asked two or more complete strangers to be photographed together in somewhat of intimate poses, I felt almost twitchy. With discomfort.

Upon doing a bit of research on this exhibit, many of the subjects apparently said that they cared about the other person they just met and posed with, after being photographed together. I think that’s really wonderful. That’s what being a human is about. Compassion. Empathy. A need to connect. I also find it really beautiful that this project was funded by strangers through Kickstarter. Despite my initial reaction to the concept of this exhibition, I left feeling warm and fuzzy.

Looking at these work poses an interesting question, is it better to know the background of an artwork? I personally think so, and this is why I always enjoyed having a good guide or doing a little research after. For me, it deepens the experience.

Great example was an exhibit called Nate and Me by Matthew Pillsbury at Sasha Wolf Gallery. As far as I remember, our guide Merrily explained to us, it’s about solitude in the modern society of being glued to some kind of a screen at all times. We exist, but are not present in the moment. That’s what’s represented by blurry, fading figures in these beautiful and haunting photographs. Sometimes in an extremely intimate setting such as two people having sex. I was very taken by his work. They are beautiful and the stories are beautifully told. I enjoyed forming my own interpretations.

But then when I got home and read up further on the world wide web, I discovered that this was an openly autobiographical exhibit about Pillsbury’s personal transition – falling in love with another man, and leaving his wife and coming out as a gay man. Whoa! Was I zoning out when Merrily explained this? That totally gave me a different perspective on this exhibit, and it got me thinking more. I mean, it makes sense that Nate from the title, “Nate and I” was his new lover at the time. Now I felt almost hurt. As much as I’m happy that he was able to have the courage to go through this personal journey, and live his life as what feels true to him, I felt disturbed. Because I couldn’t help but to keep thinking of how hurtful it must have been to his ex wife. This whole experience first hand, and also this exhibit which is such a public display of their personal journey. I couldn’t help but to sympathize with her. 

These three exhibits took me on the journey. Kind of like watching good movies or reading good books. I look forward to seeing more work from these artists in the future.

Face in the Crowd by Alex Prager
January 9 – February 22, 2014
Lehmann Maupin
540 West 26th Street, New York, NY 10001

Touching Strangers by Richard Renaldi
Aperture Gallery
547 West 27th Street, 4th floor, New York, NY

Nate and Me by Matthew Pillsbury
February 26 – April 20, 2014
Sasha Wolf Gallery
70 Orchard Street, New York, NY 10002