words by Andrew Nicholls
Artsource Global City Residency New York
1 August to 15 September 2017
Less of a conventional residency, and more of a professional networking program, Residency Unlimited (RU)[i], is structured to provide artists with an inroad into New York’s notoriously opaque art scene. Up to sixteen artists and curators are in residence at any one time from across the world, including the States, for up to six months each. Participants must source their own accommodation, and no studio space is provided other than a large shared room adjoining the organisation’s office, but RU facilitates broad-reaching support, and is a home base from which to explore the city. My residency was for only six weeks, but this being only my second visit to the States, and my first to New York, I extended my stay to ten, arriving during the last week of July, and staying until the first week of October. The journey takes 34 hours from door to door, the longest time I’ve ever spent travelling anywhere.
Prior to their arrival, residents fill in a questionnaire to provide RU staff with a summary of their practice and research interests, which is then used to structure their time there. Artists who have a particular project in mind — which I stupidly didn’t — are then better supported by the organisation and their substantial and diverse network.
The most valuable aspect of the residency was the ongoing program of private studio visits with up to three curators a week, who are selected by RU staff to match each artists’ interests. Visits are limited to 45 minutes or so, which quickly forced me to perfect how to succinctly articulate my practice.
In addition, there were structured field trips to exhibitions, gallery openings and collections plus occasional workshops and social events — even a salsa class — during my stay.
The programming was invigorating, but of course the major drawcard of the RU experience is the city itself. RU is located in Carroll Gardens, an extremely pretty Brooklyn neighbourhood flanking the mouth of the East River, bordered by Red Hook and Gowanus, semi-industrial areas with dynamic art communities and a plethora of small bars, galleries and ARIs.
My apartment was in Gowanus, which I instantly adored: several blocks of factories, garages, tyre shops, mosques and bars, clustered around a notoriously polluted canal and an expressway — boisterous and ugly — but only a few minutes’ walk from bucolic Prospect Park.
I loved Brooklyn immediately. I was shocked to discover how vast it is, having always assumed that it was a suburb of New York, rather than a borough of multiple neighbourhoods the same size as Manhattan. Manhattan itself I found intimidating at first, experienced through a haze of exhaustion and humidity. My residency comes on the back of several months of travel and the launch of multiple exhibition projects at home. I’m seriously run down, and my arrival is marred by 12 solid days of jetlag, followed by a string of minor ailments; I spent much of my first fortnight at home with a cold, sulking and wishing I was in Italy.
I was awarded my residency just prior to the 2016 presidential election, and my repulsion at the outcome was compounded by the knowledge that I would soon be spending two months in the new president’s home town. What will Trump’s America be like, I wondered? Will there even be a New York left to reside in!?
In the end it didn’t really affect me, though other RU residents have been refused entry to the US at John F. Kennedy International Airport and sent straight back home on the next available flight when their visas were deemed ineligible to meet the country’s new entry requirements. During my first few days in town I’m forced to enter the Trump Tower because it’s where the Gucci store is. On my way out I’m confronted, confoundingly, by a group of pro-Trump protestors. ‘What do you have to object to!?’ I snap at them. ‘You won’. I’m pleasantly surprised by the level of criticism regarding Trump’s presidency in the media, though this mood is decidedly different outside of NYC; later in my trip, in Deadwood South Dakota, souvenir shops on the main street sell grotesque pro-Trump t-shirts and revoltingly misogynistic anti-Hillary ones.
Trump’s omnipotence only adds to the city’s overall milieu of decline. Based on the cultural icons that have informed my understanding of New York (Paris is Burning, Cruising, Taxi Driver, Brigid Berlin’s reminiscences in Pie in the Sky) I can’t shake the feeling that the time to be here was between thirty and sixty years ago.
Gentrification is rife. A friend tells me that even Wall Street is now primarily residential, and local artists lament the recent infiltration of high-end apartments into Chinatown and the East Village. I can’t help but think that if New York can’t protect its neighbourhoods, what hope does any other city have? The Hotel Chelsea is ominously clad in scaffolding, rumours speculating on its fate, and that of its art collection, which is allegedly ‘in storage’. The romance of at last attending my first Broadway show was obliterated by the fifty-metre long queue to enter the theatre, manned by security guards barking at us to discard all liquids and enter the building in single file, offering our bags open for inspection before heading directly to our seats.
Nonetheless, somehow the city can’t help but impress, and Manhattan slowly wins me over. I’m spellbound by the beauty of the Empire State Building, which I’d previously thought was dull, and inordinately delighted by my first sighting of a rat in the subway.
I sneer at the groups of tourists taking selfies outside the ‘Friends’ building and Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment, but still surreptitiously do the same thing outside the Sheffield residence on the way to Barney Greengrass, while passing locals wonder what I’m photographing. Thankfully, the weather was nowhere near as bad as everyone had warned me about — there were some very humid days at the beginning of the stay, but I’m lucky to be there during one of the mildest summers in recent memory. Central Park’s Sheep Meadow is an ocean of firm, tanned flesh. With the other residency artists, I drink cocktails in a rooftop bar with a spa pool next to the dancefloor, where (Instagram tells me) Amanda Lepore hangs out. Amanda doesn’t show, and it’s not as decadent as it thinks it is because the entire building stinks of chlorine, but it’s still more fun than anything in Perth.
The majority of artists residing with RU do so for three to six months, and complete their residency with an exhibition. As my time there is so short I don’t get offered a show, however I’m provided with other opportunities. This includes an invitation to lead the discussion at their quarterly ‘artist brunch’ at the ACE Hotel in Manhattan (I chose to discuss the changing role of the Muse over the past 3,000 years, and am excited to have a curator from the New Museum[ii] in attendance), and to meet with MA students and present a lecture on my practice at Montclare State University. A teacher from Florida State University additionally requests a presentation for himself and his students who are in NYC on a field trip, resulting in an open invitation to speak about my work in Florida.
Having only been to the States once before, the residency also allowed me to address an embarrassing gap in my knowledge of contemporary and modern American art. At the Met Museum[iii] I discover the works of Jarred French, Paul Cadmus, and the PaJaMa collective, an encounter that goes on to inspire two series of photographs. Other exhibition highlights include MoMA’s excellent show of Louise Bourgeois’ prints and drawings[iv] (infinitely better-curated than the TATE Modern’s retrospective in 2007), Kara Walker’s knock-out solo exhibition at Sikkema Jenkins & co[v], and the Whitney’s superb Helio Oiticica retrospective[vi]. The trip additionally provided me with the opportunity to tick off numerous bucket-list goals, including, on my first night in the city, my long-held desire to drink a Manhattan in Manhattan.
A few weeks later a road trip across Tennessee with fellow Western Australian artist, Pilar Mata Dupont, allowed me to visit Loretta Lynne’s ranch, the Grand Ole Oprey, and Dollywood. We collaborate on a double self-portrait as an unhappily married couple in tribute to our Airbnb’s heart shaped hot-tub. A second road trip through South Dakota and Wyoming with former Western Australian artist, Steph Godfrey, allows further bucket-list check-offs: visiting the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, the prairies, The Devil’s Tower, the Badlands National Park, and a stay at Deadwood’s notoriously-haunted Bullock Hotel, both of us rendered sleepless after re-watching the Ghost Adventures episode that prompted us to book it, and finding out that we had inadvertently booked one of the (allegedly) most haunted rooms.
These experiences have already begun to filter into my practice, and will continue to do so.
Oddly, it is only once my residency has officially ended that the most exciting professional opportunities arise. Aware that I’m staying in the city for an additional fortnight, RU generously keeps me on their invitation list for field trips and gallery visits, and through this I meet several collectors who were keen to hear more about my work, and assist me in returning to the city to exhibit. Two of them invited me to dinner and I end up being featured on their food blog. Prior to my arrival both RU and Artsource had been quick to state that, given the short duration of my residency, they didn’t necessarily expect me to make any work, but I wanted to, and end up achieving a lot more than I’d first expected. My exhaustion and illness during the first few weeks meant that I had plenty of time at home during which to draw. By the end of the trip I had connected with a number of models and I undertook several photo shoots during my final days in town, including an unforgettable afternoon with the ridiculously sexy bearded model, George Dellinger, and famous Yoga teacher, Jared McCann, on a Brooklyn rooftop, overlooked by the Manhattan skyline. I returned to Perth with a large body of works in progress, and a plan to return to NYC as soon as possible.
Andrew Nicholls is an Australian/British artist, writer, and curator based in Perth. His practice encompasses drawing, ceramics, and photography, through which he engages with the sentimental, camp, and other historically-marginalised aesthetics. He is particularly concerned with periods of cultural transition during which Western civilisation’s stoic aspirations were undone by base desires, fears, or compulsions, and with the recurrence of particular aesthetic motifs.
Global City Residencies are developed by Artsource to offer a range of quality residencies, of varying lengths, open to artists at different stages in their careers.
The Artsource Global City Residency New York 2017 is supported by Residency Unlimited.
Images (top to bottom):
Andrew Nicholls, Rambling 1 (after Jared French), (in progress), 2017, digital photograph. Image courtesy of the artist.
Residency Unlimited field trip to Governor's Island with artists in residence Daniel Mantilla, Carolina Paz, Hadi Nasiri, Andrew Nicholls, Ada Van Hoorebeke, and RU's Boshko Boskovich. Image courtesy of Residency Unlimited.
Andrew Nicholls in Central Park. Image courtesy of the artist.
Andrew Nicholls with Mt. Rushmore. Image courtesy of the artist.
Andrew Nicholls leading a Residency Unlimited/ACE Hotel Brunch Chat, with fellow artists in residence and invited guests. Image courtesy of Residency Unlimited.
Andrew Nicholls and Pilar Mata Dupont, Sometimes she drinks in bed. Sometimes he's homosexual, 2017 digital print. Photographer: Travis Kelleher.
Andrew Nicholls, Elemental Play, Brooklyn (after Jared French), (in progress), 2017, digital photograph. Image courtesy of the artist.