Opening on Wednesday and running through January is an exhibit at the New Museum examining the life of artists who chose to make their home along the infamous Manhattan boulevard known as the Bowery.
During the 60s, 70s and 80s the Bowery was a well-known haven for the homeless and those otherwise seeking the cheapest possible places to live. Flophouses and tumbledown apartment hotels housed the penniless of every stripe, including starving artists.
The exhibit will have on view 40 pieces from 20 Bowery artists who lived in the midst of those impoverished conditions; a reality that is fast fading into the annals of history as the Bowery remakes itself into a hip, high-rent and low tolerance for poverty, district.
“The Bowery was spoken about as a no-man’s-land, a thoroughfare of how people got to the Manhattan Bridge or to the Williamsburg Bridge,” said the show’s curator, Ethan Swan. Swan is also in charge of educational development at the New Museum, which is located at 235 Bowery.
“It was not a place that people thought of staying in much,” he added.
One exception was the artists, who were willing to overlook what others avoided and rented out loft space for dirt-cheap. At first the artists left their surroundings out of their works. That began to change beginning in 1969.
“That is when the artists started to really invite the Bowery into their studios,” Swan explained.
Curt Hoppe is one of the artists who began to fall in love with the Bowery. His work as a painter and photographer is included in the “Come Closer” show.
“If you have to run from the subway to your apartment, that is when you know you are in a good neighborhood,” said Hoppe, who still lives and works in his studio at 98 Bowery, a building that housed many of the era’s well-known artists.
“It has been just a very cool building… there is something special about this building, but I don’t know what it is,” added Hoppe.