Side One of the Squeeze: Art & Habitation, Side Two of the Squeeze: Art as Habitation

by Ella Coon

When thinking about making art in New York, one might feel inclined to reminisce, to think about the 1980s—Christopher Wool and Basquiat splashing around in their studios, or Richard Prince and Barbara Kruger culling photographs on a sizable scale. Or, one might to go back further, to think about the New York School—Peggy Guggenheim in a forest green wool suit, scouting Motherwell collages and Pollock drip-clothes, while tip-toeing through imagined gutted-out factories. One might even draw their mind to Dubuffet—the artist stitching mammoth sheets of ink-speckled corrugated cardboard and butcher paper together, to create stuffed elongated forms that mimic cowboys, set to be hung like pelts levitating in a martial line, after a long afternoon of picking up street trash, and a solitary morning of sipping burnt coffee and longingly gazing out his apartment’s iron-framed, pre-war window at unbeknownst passerbyers.

But, maybe we should all be thinking a little more about Gordon Matta Clark.

Putting romantic revelries and (potentially misplaced) idols aside, making art in New York occupies two sides of the same coin: the art of the squeeze. Side one of the squeeze: art and habitation. Side two of the squeeze: art as habitation. Put another way, you don’t need Althusser to recognize the relationship between late capitalism and real estate development, if you’re a New Yorker. The twilight of spatial “opportunity”—of vast abandonments of incomprehensibly vast spaces—to be ferreted out by low-earning neo-beatniks, looking to find a place to make work (in between juggling an art handing job, position as a studio assistant, and a looming group show, if they’re not independently wealthy) has finally set. The last frontiers of an artistic pioneering spirit—e.g. hitherto oases like Industry City or Ti Art Studios—have either become overtaken by commerce as is the case of the former (Industry City now features everything from a Bangkok Bar to an ABC Carpet and Home) or overrun and outpaced (a studio in the latter, which is hard to secure in itself, runs roughly $900 to $1,300 for a 15-20’ x 20’ space).

This is not to say there are no artist studios or spaces left in the New York vicinity. Gems like the Textile Art Center, Re: Art Space, Shoestring Press, Small Editions, and Ortega y Gasset Projects are still going strong. But, in the midst of raising rents and spatial competitions, all signs point towards displacement. (We all know a range of people who have chosen to either move their practices elsewhere—Upstate, Philly or even Minneapolis—or those who have taken to making work within their own homes.)

But what does this displacement look like? I’m not going to try to try to answer this question in totality, but instead offer up a cursory proposition. Let’s return to the coin: the art of the squeeze. Side one of the squeeze: art and habitation. Side two of the squeeze: art as habitation. The gust of neoliberalism have ushered in a new aesthetic wind—a new kind of scavenge and a new kind of hustle. In this light, New York artists will have to be either richer or more resourceful.

But, when thinking about impending shadows of the slowly erecting luxury condos, should artists really be our biggest concern?