10 Galleries to Visit Now on the Lower East Side
New York City neighborhoods change; that’s life. And one that has changed drastically is the swath of real estate between 14th Street and Canal Street, east of the Bowery, known as the Lower East Side. Its northernmost section, the East Village, was psychedelia central in the 1960s, and in the early 1980s a hot, if short-lived, art gallery scene.
The whole area, with a history of ethnic diversity and radical politics, had been “Loisaida” to its largely working-class, Spanish-speaking residents. The 1980s art scene lasted just long enough to get the gentrification ball rolling and significantly alter the landscape, not least its ethnic mix. But after a lull, galleries are back, farther south, and lots of them. And a few historical traces of the rich culture of Loisaida hang on.
LOISAIDA CENTER Although most of the area’s widely seen art of the 1980s was aimed at the mainstream art market, some if it was neighborhood-directed. The exhibition “La Lucha Continua The Struggle Continues, 1985 & 2017,” at the Loisaida Center, documents a monumental piece of that work: a series of 26 murals painted in 1985 and 1986 on the sides of four tenements surrounding an empty lot turned garden called La Plaza Cultural. This was political art in the truest sense, site-specific, topical (its themes included gentrification, immigration and United States intervention in Latin America at the time) by a multicultural group of 34 artists, led by Eva Cockcroft (1936-1999). All but two of the murals are now gone, and those two exist in a vanishing state at the fence-enclosed Plaza Cultural, on East NinthStreet, near Avenue C. But all were
extensively documented, while in progress and finished. And the show, meticulously organized and annotated by Jane Weissman of the nonprofit Artmakers Inc., with input from some of the original participants, captures both the project’s vibrant, bigger-than-life look and its spirit, which was very much a product of street wisdom and together-we-can ideals.