Our culture has a relationship with art that can kindly be called dysfunctional. The artist is perceived as eccentric to the point of madness, ready to lop off their own body parts in a fit of passion, or as an ascetic obsessive, agonizing over every brush stroke. One of the more modern caricatures is that of the paint splattered, overall wearing, bizarro factory worker.
Thank New York City’s imposing, quasi-emperor of a city planner for much of the 20th century, Robert Moses, for that last one.
The Lower Manhattan Expressway development, a ten-lane expressway intended to connect the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges to the Holland Tunnel, was shelved for good in 1962. The proposed plans called for the highway to cut through SoHo and Little Italy. By the end of the decade, former industrial spaces cleared out in anticipation of demolition remained standing, and empty.
The attraction of a large, cheap space that could pull double duty as a working studio and a domicile was obvious, and the image of the post-industrial, urban bohemian has stayed with us long after the artists have been priced out of the neighborhood.
Then again, with industries tanking left and right, it looks like there are plenty of opportunities to work with a fresh canvas out there.
Photography: Ricky Orng
Words: Dan Alvarez