Jeremy Kirwan-Ward & Helen Smith in studio 2013. Photo: Christopher CanatoThese Vagabond Shoes

Helen Smith & Jeremy Kirwan-Ward
December 2012

Our day begins with the familiar plaintive squawks of laying hens – an incongruous sound for East 5th Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan – but across the street from our apartment is a communal garden, a piece of vacant land given over to the local residents that they have planted with herbs, vegetables and flowering shrubs. There is a pond with sun-basking tortoises and a hutch for the aforementioned chooks – the garden is continually used by the predominantly Puerto Rican community, a place for chat, cards, BBQs and gardening – it is a success story in giving life to a crowded and vertical neighbourhood. Even when it’s raining (which is often), it’s a great start to the day.

Our objective while we are in New York is to see the seminal works of minimal abstraction that have influenced our practices. To that effect, we have started with the extraordinary Dia Foundation in Beacon, a converted biscuit factory a train ride up the Hudson River. This level of philanthropy and dedicated collecting is something new to us and is truly awe-inspiring. The building itself is remarkable, beautifully and carefully renovated to house enormous site-specific projects, with an entrance and garden visualised by Robert Irwin. This really is what we have come for, an opportunity to see works that are unlikely to travel, that revel in a dedicated space and no crowds – it’s heaven; it’s nearly a religious experience!

Highline-on-Manhattan-showing-a-billboard-presumably-by-artist-David-Shrigley,-2012.-Photo-by-Helen-SmithThree weeks later: we have spent the last weeks ticking off the major collections – The Metropolitan, MOMA, Guggenheim, The Whitney and the Frick Collection – all incredible in their own right, with all the works we were hoping to see and more, much more. We dedicated four days to the commercial galleries in Chelsea, a massive task – once again, the scale was incredible, with a hundred or so shows on. They ranged from tiny shows of emerging artists to very imposing installations by the big names. We also managed to squeeze in a three day side trip to Houston to see the wonderful Menil Collection housed in a purpose built gallery by Renzo Piano, using only natural light. And a couple of hundred metres away, the Rothko Chapel providing a bit of quiet time.

Back in New York, we moved to Brooklyn – quite a different scenario to the Lower East Side, ‘cruisier’ and more ‘hipster’ but still only a short subway ride to Manhattan. Even after looking at so much extraordinary art from all genres and eras, the main act is the city itself – so alive and dynamic, it seems that everything you have ever heard about it is true – it’s so big! And what with four dollar Margaritas at happy hour in the bars in our street, the whole experience has been truly memorable. Can’t wait to get back!


Helen Smith & Jeremy Kirwan-Smith were the recipients of a 2012 Artsource Go Anywhere residency, generously funded by the Artsource Patrons.

This article featured in the Artsource Newsletter, Summer 2012/2013.

Artsource supports the practice of professional artists with the Global City Residencies.