Situated on the second floor along a dilapidated corridor of the Andrew Freedman Home, This Side of Paradise was comprised of over a dozen rooms each showcasing the vision of a particular artist or duo. The show, organized by art non-profit No Longer Empty, wasn’t your usual New York art event. It wasn’t about showing big names to get government grants, attracting celebutante collectors to gain media traction, or hawking elaborate artistic visions to the highest SoHo-bred bidder. It was about reclaiming a space that has sat near-empty for decade, a space that existed as not much more than myth even to its neighbors along Grand Concourse.
Built in 1924 with money from the estate of National League baseball owner and New York Subway System financier Andrew Freedman, the now-dilapidated mansion looks like a place that is rife with ghosts. The limestone exterior crumbles in the detailed cornices and archways. Once well-manicured lawns are now overgrown with jungle weeds that have won the battle over paving stones. But despite its obvious neglect, it looms with a self-satisfied smirk over the other remnants of Grand Concourse’s early twentieth century heyday. Given that it was built exclusively to house down-and-out rich people in the posh lifestyle to which they were accustomed prior to massive losses during the Great Depression, the haughtiness that it exudes is befitting.
Some artists, like Gian Maria Tosatti, took advantage of materials sourced within the home to create haunting installations. Others, including legendary graffiti artists Daze and Crash, focused more on the home’s location in the Bronx than its history. The duo created an elaborate wall-to-wall replication of a recording studio complete with sharp triangular foam protrusions, red lighting, and cracked Fun House-esque mirrors to pay tribute to the borough’s hip hop past. The remainder of the rooms was a mash of chilling homages to the lives lived within its walls, whimsical takes on interior design and decay, crowd-sourced positivity, and street-styled graffiti typical of the Bronx in the 1980s and 90s.
Given the unique socioeconomic history of the property, No Longer Empty couldn’t have chosen a more relevant time to re-open its second floor to the public. “Thank you for enabling us to live in denial just a little while longer,” read a fictional letter created by one of the artists. Yes, This Side of Paradise was about the art but it was also a very visual reminder that even the One Percent can’t avoid disintegrating into rubble nor can they self-segregate forever. Haunting and politically charged, this show broke down invisible walls created decades ago by simply unlocking the wrought iron gates and swinging open the heavy wooden doors.
Words- Tiffany Rainey
Photos- Amy Klein