Scene and Held

Hiji Nam on Ludlow 38’s Closing

Dan Mitchell at Ludlow 38. Photo: Yair Oelbaum.

PRICED OUT OF THE LES, Ludlow 38 will shutter indefinitely. By now, this is too familiar a story to really be anything beyond a bummer, so last Thursday, on the night of the crushing UK elections, some friends of the gallery gathered to toast it goodbye at Nublu Classic, the Alphabet City bar. Guests of the “Too Faust Too Furious” party were variously scrounging for drink tickets and fretting about getting canceled in Texte Zur Kunst; Marie Karlberg was valiantly fighting a hangover from her opening at Tramps the night prior, which featured a sizable chunk of art-world players playing (basically) themselves in seven films installed on the top floor of the East Broadway Mall. Tobias Czudej, one of a flock of fatigued Brits present, was recovering from Miami Basel; Kerstin Brätsch sat on a bench, looking rather bored and jet-lagged; and Sanya Kantarovsky introduced me to his friend Michael Portnoy, a performance artist who achieved protoviral notoriety for gyrating shirtless, with the words Soy Bomb painted on his chest, onstage during Bob Dylan’s performance at the 1998 Grammys. Portnoy’s moves were more low-key tonight, as he nodded stoically along to DJ Chicken’s set. I asked him if he was visiting from Germany.

“I’m from Bethesda,” Portnoy answered.

“But you teach in Malmö,” offered Kantarovsky. “You have a European steez.”

Portnoy and I looked at each other and burst out laughing. “What?”

“Okay, I need to be resocialized,” allowed Kantarovsky. “To be fair, you’re too young and Michael’s too old to know.” He showed us a clip of Gang Starr’s 1997 track “You Know My Steez.”

Writers Andrew Durbin, Kevin Champoux, and Shiv Kotecha.

Twenty years after “You Know My Steez” hit Billboard’s Hot 100, I started working at the Goethe Institut’s little corridor of a gallery as an art-world tenderfoot. The first show I worked was Veit Laurent Kurz and Ben Schumacher’s cardboard “Hütti,” built inside the gallery and filled with the works of fifty-five artists from various networks of Cooper and Städel and RISD, representing a certain sliver of the downtown scene. (My analyst at the time found the recurrence of the word scene and seen in my sessions to be of some import. “Where,” he asked gently, “is the place where you feel held?”) Under Saim Demircan’s stewardship—the year-long curatorial residency was inaugurated in 2011 by Tobi Maier and finishes with Franziska Sophie Wildförster—Ludlow 38’s programming in 2017 ranged from performances by the duo New Noveta and Ben Wallers, clad in a Spiderman costume, to a gigantic box of Tide emanating the Jaws soundtrack, by Dan Mitchell. Saim also extended an invitation that year to Matthew Linde, who curated an anthology of 2000s fashion that spanned both sides of Canal, with an outpost at Mathew Gallery (also now closed), and culminated in a fashion show with various nodels—from Matthew Marks’s Beau Rutland and artist Whitney Claflin to collector Thea Westreich Wagner—in KEUPR/van BENTM, Hussein Chalayan, Hideki Seo, and Walter van Beirendonck, using the Lower East Side-walk as runway.

Curator Aria Dean.

As a gallery assistant, my primary responsibility was to distribute Warsteiner beers at openings and host illicit karaoke after hours. Once, someone tagged a Bushwick cop car with one of Mitchell’s ART GALLERY OF DEATH LOLZ stickers, and I woke up to a phone call from Demircan, near hysterical, demanding that I track the car down and remove the decal immediately—it was imperative I do so, otherwise he was certain we would be arrested, our work contracts revoked.

Not all of the art was brilliant, and nothing sold, but that was the point, or one of them. Established in 2008 by Stefan Kalmar and Stephan Wackwitz, the space was backed by the German government and BMW/MINI, and modeled after various German Kunstvereine, a welcome contrast to the expansionist model of America’s corporately branded museums. At the party, Robert Snowden, whom I had met one summer day when he showed up to Ludlow with a spiral notebook embossed with Trolls, best summed up the place’s Geist: “They were always very friendly. They always let me charge my phone, use the bathroom. Once someone let me borrow their phone, and I called my dad and he loaned me money.” He thought harder. “And I made a lot of friends there.”

Artists Michael Portnoy and Sanya Kantarovsky.

Artist Kayode Ojo.

Curators Saim Demircan and Laura McLean-Ferris.

Artist DeSe Escobar.

Artist Willa Nasatir.

“The Overworked Body” runway, 2017. Photo: Dillon Sachs.

Artist Marie Karlberg.

DJ Marky Rice.

Artists Michèle Graf and Dora Budor.

DJ Chicken.

Artist Raul de Nieves.