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Concourse, Bronx, NYC

As of April 4th, the stately Andrew Freedman Home on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, for many years a largely abandoned and run-down space, has become the site of a noteworthy new project. The recipe for the exhibition, titled “This Side of Paradise” after F. Scott Fitzgerald’s beloved novel, seems to be one part public programming, two parts art installation, one part renovation...with a splash of haunted house. The group No Longer Empty has resurrected the Freedman not quite to its former glory—which was as a retirement community for the formerly wealthy elderly of the city—but to the glory of being useful once again, a center of community and a landmark of the neighborhood. For the show, artists were invited to ponder the history of the building and its eccentric residents and respond to the unique complications of memory, history, and the past. The result is something like an awesome art fair meets “The Shining.”

The downstairs ballrooms feature group installations that tie in the history of the Bronx and the home and make contemporary connections with the setting. Federico Uribe’s “Persian Carpet”, a large mosaic floor piece, is a reimagining of the height of the Andrew Freedman Home’s decorative elegance. Playful canvases by Bruce Richards line the hallways on the first floor, cleverly making use of reflection to allow viewers a glimpse of the past by aligning themselves to appear in a tuxedo or pearls (or make fools of themselves trying to do so, as we did.) The old library has been brought back to life with an audio installation of an eerie heartbeat and complete with all the actual books kept for residents’ entertainment.

The artists’ rooms upstairs are the real draw. Taking over these sparse, abandoned rooms, each of these artists took advantage of every corner—including the bathrooms. Cheryl Pope’s gold leaf covered room features a gold-filled bathtub as well as a choral performance group. Adam Parker Smith’s candy, donut, and feather-covered walls draw visitors in with fantasy, but repulse after full exposure. A room with furniture on the ceiling; a “Happy Room” where visitors are invited to write what makes them happy on post-it notes on the walls; a room whose floor is made entirely of broken glass: graffiti and collage, paint and photography, installation and performance all collide in these rooms, revitalized and repurposed with careful consideration for their former occupants. Sylvia Plachy’s Village Voice 1980s photographs of residents during the social hour at the home are an anchor in the large corridor of artist rooms, which is itself a remnant of the past, featuring the untouched artifacts of the retirement home such as a key rack with resident’s name tags.

“With the whole room, the artist can really create an environment, not just one piece” remarked Manon Slome, President and Chief Curator of No Longer Empty. Slome, who conducted over 50 studio visits in her search for participating artists, says she enjoyed the escape from a traditional museum exhibition because it allows more freedom: “I care more about whether an artist is interesting than if they are established,” she told us.

The exhibition is accompanied by a slew of community-building events and programming, including plans for residential housing, a Green Technology Training Institute, and the already functional Bed & Breakfast operating on the first floor. These creepy accommodations may not yet be our first choice, but the long subway ride was definitely worth the veritable fun house of art we encountered.

This Side of Paradise runs through June 5, 2012.

Text by Ceci Menchetti and photography by Dan Teran for Artsicle.




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