homeless

Writing the Subway

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The New York City Subway System can be a hotbed for the worst of humanity. Here are two stories that always come to mind:

I was making my way down a crowded stairway to get to the subway. Foot traffic was excruciatingly slow because a woman was struggling to carry her bulky stroller down the stairs. A man pushed past me, and I figured he was rushing to help the woman with her stroller, but instead he ran past her and yelled, “if you make me miss this subway, I’ll kill you and your f***ing baby.” To this day I wonder where he was going to warrant such hostility.

Another time,  a homeless man asked a guy for spare change. The guy didn’t have any cash so he kindly offered up his Chinese takeout. The homeless man took the food and threw it against the subway wall. Greasy, stir-fried rice flew everywhere. Then he pinned the man up against the wall and yelled in his face, “Do I look desperate to you?” I was picking rice out of my purse for weeks afterward.

Oh the stories I could tell.

I love NYC but I oftentimes consider moving far far away after every sweaty, dehumanizing, sardine can-like commute. But, as a writer, I cannot deny the invaluable observational opportunities it provides (wow say that 10 times fast).

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A few days ago I did a fun little writing exercise. I had a 90 minute commute ahead of me so I  took my journal and pen instead of a book. I picked a random stranger at each subway stop and wrote down as much about them as possible.  With over 25 stops I really got to hone my observational skills.  The subway ride flew by, and I was a better writer for it.

Here was my favorite observation:

A man sits across from me.  Slumped in his seat, his legs spread wide and his knees pointing toward the ceiling. He wears light jeans, ragged at the hem, a black knitted hat and a zipped up, navy blue parka. Three black plastic bags rest on the floor between his feet.

With sausage-like fingers he wrestles with a small, colorful, plastic wrapped object. He furrows his brow and sighs, bringing the wrapper to his mouth. He bites the corner off and spits it on the floor. His face glows and he smiles wide when he looks inside the newly opened package.

He dips his finger inside the package and pulls out a candy ring with a shiny red sucker. He places the ring on the very tip of his index finger, as far down as it will go. Licking his lips, he opens his mouth to reveal a glistening pink tongue. He takes the candy jewel in his mouth and closes his eyes for a long time.

I probably wouldn’t have noticed that bizarre little moment if I had my head buried in a book as I usually do. The next time you’re stuck doing something you really don’t like, see if there’s a way of turning it into a constructive exercise.

This is One Curator to Keep an Eye On

Molly Morgan Weiss was one of those special people who stood out in college, and that’s quite a feat in art school. I first saw her hanging outside my dorm in pink, furry, knee-high boots [although, she claims they were black]! We first bonded while painting a mural on the front of the Museum of Archaeology in Nicaragua. We’ve had many crazy adventures together, including almost getting arrested by undercover cops in Poland!

I’ve always been a big fan of her paintings. In fact I own two! I’ve also been to almost all of the shows she curated. From Fantastical Interactical  in the Hamptons, to Burlesque Poetry in Brooklyn, to her most recent show at Gallery 151 in Chelsea, her shows are always  fun, hip, and artsy. She showcases artists with a new perspective and a hint of whimsy (my favorite part). Just recently she secured the position of curator at Gallery 151, a competitive and prestigious position in the art world. Molly took some time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions. Her path from sleeping in her car to becoming an art curator will  inspire you!

Can you tell us about some of your jobs since graduating from Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA)?

The more bad jobs you have the more you realize what you don’t want to do. I was always fortunate enough to know it was art for me. I knew I needed to make it happen.  So, even when my job was (this is embarrassing and awful) billing cancer patients, I would go right home after work and immediately work on my next show, or a large painting or something that fed that art space in me. That job drove a fire in me to find friends who were exhibiting and just wanting to make art wherever whenever. We all worked really hard at it too.  

From writing the press releases to organizing the installations, we all formed a team. We were very close and created a bit of a movement out in our sleepy town (Sag Harbor, NY).  I had the honor to work for the Parrish Art Museum,where I met life long friends as well as continued to exhibit throughout the East End.

The [economic downturn] definitely hurt the art world.  I often feel like I’m on the front lines,  because at any given moment the arts funding can be cut. But that won’t stop me, at least not anytime soon. I was unemployed for a while, but my hard work in the art world eventually brought me to NYC.  I worked at Staples to pay for my art supplies – the coworkers were great, clients were awful.  For the last three years, I’ve been working at Gateway Schools on the Upper West Side.  Its a beautiful school with a great reputation and has allowed me to explore projects with children that I love. 

When did you know you wanted to become a curator?

This sounds cliche, but I think it just happened. People started calling me a curator, and then as I worked on my shows, I realized  that it made absolute sense. I had to work a lot for free, but I loved it so much I didn’t even mind.  

Can you describe the month leading up to landing a position as a curator?

I was accepted into Robert Wilson‘s Watermill Center for visual art and curating.  They were going to put me up for the summer for 6 weeks, all expenses paid, and introduce me to some of the best, talented, hard working artists in the industry today. I was so excited…It was everything I had ever worked for.  I thought I was about to embark on the best dream art summer ever.  

After a couple of nights there I was promptly kicked out because “the icon,” Mr. Wilson, decided he didn’t like me.  He never gave me a reason, I had to find out some things through a grape vine, that I didn’t fit in, he didn’t appreciate my sense of humor, I was “too casual”. I still don’t know if any of that is true but I have to swallow it and deal. The same night I was kicked out, the man I loved for the past three years told me he was leaving me for one of me “good friends”.  Talk about being hit while your already down. I had no apartment, and wound up living out of my car.  It was a rug swiftly pulled from under my feet.  I was devastated.

Then there was a Patti Smith concert, and god damn does Patti Smith feel good in times like these.  That’s where I saw Mike Namer (owner and founder of Gallery 151) and his son Matt, whom I’ve known for years.  They have always been friendly, warm, loving,  interesting people.  He’s the kind of man that is really working hard to give back to his community. With Patti Smith’s words pumping me up, I told Mike about the recent bad events. By the next day he had me over for coffee with him and his wife, and a month later was seriously talking about this job that opened up running his gallery in Chelsea.  Here I am today.  

I’m still in touch with a lot of artists from Watermill Center, and I bought a camera right before summer and religiously documented the whole experience which I plan to exhibit.  And yes, the “ex” boy admits now that he made a mistake. 

The month before this job was crazy, and had I not run into Michael Namer I don’t know what would have happened.  It proves that you need to have a little faith in the uncertainty every once in awhile. I’m usually so organized at plotting my career, so this was a real shake up and a strange time.

Your story is a perfect example of the saying, Luck is what happens when hard work meets opportunity. What advice can you give a young, creative person who’s just graduating from college?

The other day I told one of my interns, just keep going after college, no matter what, just keep at it. I feel strongly if you have a vision, and want to keep making art you must keep going and find other people that are also keeping at it.  When you get a good group of people all doing it the force is unstoppable and the work you want will find you.  You will be broke, but always keep that vision right there, and if you can, and are lucky enough to have supportive people around you, be good to them.  Be humble and eventually you’ll know why you’re doing it. 

What are some of your visions for the future of the gallery? 

I come from a real community orientated background, and luckily for me that is a huge part of the owners vision as well.  As I did out on Long Island, I’d like to collaborate with other artists, setting up exciting events that mix visual art, poetry slams,  crafts,and performance. One of my missions is to make art approachable and interactive.  In the world today, the arts are suffering badly, and its very hard to find serious investors for young emerging artists.  I like to get creative with this obstacle. We have to give them a reason why everyone, from a  young professional to an old wealthy banker, should support the arts. Art is a documentation of our society, so it’s important.  

Can you tell us a little bit about your upcoming show? 

 This next exhibition is a very important one for Mike Namer.  It’s a retrospective for the artist ERO aka. Ever Rocking On (Dominique Philbert) who just recently passed away this summer at a far too young age, 44.  This is the first show of his work since his death, he had a friendship with Mike, and I’ve learnt a lot about the artist while hanging the show and talking to the family.  He was a true artist.  He was misunderstood by society, but was extraordinarily talented.  

He was good friends with Basquiat, and for art history nerds like us, it’s a dream to actually be hanging work from the the early 80’s graffiti art movement.  They played an extremely influential role in the NYC art scene and paved way for a lot of artists to follow. They were a couple of pioneering badasses, and I can only hope to do the same.  The opening is going to be great, and the work is incredible, speaks for itself, we are all really looking forward to it.

ERO: RIP “Ever Rocking On” is open from January 12th to February 1st. Gallery 151 is located at 132 West 18th st (near the corner of 6th Ave). I’ll be there for the opening on Thursday, January 19th, for the opening (6pm-9pm)! Come join us!!!