By Alivia Lopez
New York-based artist Lucien Smith displayed some of his latest works at a controversial one-night pop-up art show in October held in the South Bronx at an abandoned piano factory on the bank of the Harlem River. The event was co-hosted by a number of high profile art enthusiasts and investors—including real estate developer Keith Rubenstein and Brooklyn Museum Director Anna Pasternack.
The purpose of the show, “Macabre Suite,” according to Rubenstein, was to draw attention to the Bronx and present the borough is as a desirable place to live. Rubenstein, co-founder of the private real estate firm Somerset Partners, has partnered with Chetrit Group to purchase two $58 million properties sitting on the Harlem River waterfront. Their goal is to create 2,000 upscale residences in the South Bronx, which has recently been dubbed the “Piano District.”
Smith, told ARTnews that “You can never do an art show like this all the time, but everybody is going to remember this.” In attendance were a bevy of celebrity guests including supermodels Naomi Campbell, Gigi Hadid, and Kendall Jenner, as well as political leaders like Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr, sparking outrage from a number of critics.
Guests at the show posed for photos in front of trash can fires and rusted cars displaying countless bullet holes, using the hashtag “#thebronxisburning” on social media—the phrase serving as a painful reminder to days when the Bronx was plagued by immense poverty and urban decay during the 1970s.
Critics of the event took to social media to express their disdain for the event. City council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who represents the South Bronx, took to Twitter to share her thoughts about the show, tweeting “It’s beyond bad taste. Our community, my constituents, deserve respect, not that. #YaBasta #EnoughAlready.”
The high-profile guests list, gourmet food trucks, and open bar filled with top-notch brands, served as stark contrasts to the surrounding neighborhood, prompting Bronx residents and others to accuse the organizers of promoting the gentrification of the Bronx.
This is not the first time a pop-art show held in the Bronx has been called out for glorifying the gentrification of the Bronx. On April 23, 2015 an unrelated art show “When You Cut Into the Present Future Leaks,” held in the Old Bronx Borough Courthouse was met by a group of angry protesters accusing the show of insensitively trying to gentrify the Bronx and displace local residents. Events such as these led Bronx residents to hold a public hearing, where they discussed how the implementation of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Housing New York initiative could ultimately lead to the gentrification of the Bronx. At the hearing, Diaz Jr.’s attendance of “Macabre Suite” was also called into question. Residents argued that Diaz Jr.’s attendance of the art show signifies his support of the gentrification of the Bronx.
Since the show, a number of local artists and Bronx community members have spoken out against “Macabre Suite.” Karen Pedrosa, a Bronx native and artist who goes by the name KayLove, told the online magazine Mic. that “Art is often used as a launching platform for gentrification and, unfortunately, many times we are used as pawns if we allow it. We must create art that speaks out against displacement, fresh air and the lack of resources the community is given.” Her comment reflects those of countless others who have expressed outrage for the show’s careless portrayal of the Bronx.