Snow In North Jersey

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Brendan Carroll curated this show, which opens Thursday, around the poem of the same name by August Kleinzahler. I’m happy to be introduced to this poem, as it takes place where I live, and I’m familiar with a lot of these landmarks and places. The park with the stone bears (and stone buffalo!) is my cue for when to yell “next stop” to get off the bus from New York. It’s great to know that the landscape that inspires me has inspired other artists and writers long before me. It makes me feel like I’m part of a larger conversation.

As the press release says:

The poem, Snow in North Jersey was chosen to be the theme of the exhibit because of its vivid imagery. “One of the motifs in Kleinzahler’s poem is the collision between the natural world and industrialization,” said Carroll. “This forceful coming together of disparate entities is jarring. It’s like a fight between a stick of cotton candy and a ball peen hammer.”

I love that last line. Here’s the poem:

Snow in North Jersey
Snow is falling along the Boulevard
and its little cemeteries hugged by transmission shops
and on the stone bear in the park
and the WWI monument, making a crust
on the soldier with his chinstrap and bayonet
It’s blowing in from the west
over the low hills and meadowlands
swirling past the giant cracking stills
that flare all night along the Turnpike
It is with a terrible deliberateness
that Mr Ruiz reaches into his back pocket
and counts out $18 and change for his Lotto picks
while in the upstairs of a thousand duplexes
with the TV on, cancers tick tick tick
and the snow continues to fall and blanket
these crowded rows of frame and brick
with their heartbreaking porches and castellations
and the red ’68 Impala on blocks
and Joe he’s drinking again and Myra’s boy Tommy
in the old days it would have been a disgrace
and Father Keenan’s not been having a good winter
and it was nice enough this morning
til noon anyhow with the sun sitting up there like a crown
over a great big dome of mackcrel sky
But it’s coming down now, all right
falling on the Dixon-Crucible Pencil factory
and on the spur to Bayonne
along the length of the Pulaski Skyway
and on St Bridgit’s and the Alibi Saloon
closed now, oh dear, I can’t remember how long
and lordjesussaveus they’re still making babies
and what did you expect from this life
and they’re calling for snow tonight and through tomorrow
an inch an hour over 9 Ridge Road and the old courthouse
and along the sluggish, gray Passaic
as it empties itself into Newark Bay
and on Grandpa’s store that sells curries now
and St Peter’s almost made it to the semis this year
It’s snowing on the canal and railyards, the busbarns and trucks
and on all the swells in their big houses along the river bluff
It’s snowing on us all
and on a three-story fix-up off of Van Vorst Park
a young lawyer couple from Manhattan bought
where for no special reason in the back of a closet
a thick, dusty volume from the Thirties sits open
with a broken spine and smelling of mildew
to a chapter titled Social Realism

Discrete Non-Visible Objects

Kianga Ellis, a former derivatives lawyer turned “art evangelist”, makes some interesting parallels between the monetizing of social art and the immaterial products sold on our financial markets. Via Art21 interview by Brendan Carroll

Social art works — performances, interventions and other activities that involve people interacting or information presented within certain parameters conceived by an artist – would be widely acknowledged as discrete non-visible objects that can be bought and sold by contractual agreement at diverse price points.

Creating a market requires productizing the activity in some way that allows people to understand what it is and what it isn’t. It requires an entrepreneur who inspires the agreement of a group of people about value, monetary terms and systems of exchange.  My experience as a commodities and derivatives trading lawyer has opened my eyes to some interesting parallels. A derivative is most simply a contract that derives its value from some other thing. It can be bought and sold, but is in fact an intangible having value that is created by the specific agreements, belief and faith of market participants. Where social art is concerned, the entirety of the artistic gesture and its impact should be comprehended as the art work.

The activities and writings of conceptual artists in the 1960s imagined a way of being in the world (including the art world) that we now take for granted. The time is now for a new dynamic within the art market to emerge because everyone who uses the Internet in a socially networked way understands how concrete the virtual and intangible can be. Ideas about what an art work is and what constitutes collecting art that were once very esoteric are not very exotic today. The mindset required to appreciate and collect social art is consistent with the way many aspects of our lives and society are now organized.