BY TEQUILA MINSKY
Soho’s commercial establishments, closed in March last year when New York City went on Pause, became the target of opportunistic damage—shattered store windows and ransacked shops—during one destructive June evening.
Soon after, artists sought the wood barricades that quickly covered the smashed plate glass storefronts, the plywood becoming their canvases.
The vicinity of Soho’s Mercer, Greene, Wooster, W. Broadway and cross streets evolved into a hub of artist creativity. And, for the briefest period of time, in a kind of back to the future, Soho took on a semblance of a long-ago former self.
Flash forward six months, the pandemic still in full swing and the exhibition schedule of the National Arts Club (NAC) in Gramercy Park experiencing the postponement of many planned shows.
A Board member and friends of NAC gave the Club and curator Robert Yahner a heads-up about the incredible public artwork produced in Soho during those post-looting and lockdown days. Yahner explored this burst of artistic expression, realizing that in addition to individuals who created art on the plywood, by design or shared vision, affinity groups of artists had formed.
Additionally, while Soho began to return to its former commercial self, the art born out of the exploding calls for social justice at the time continued to appear on the plywood barricades during the summer in Soho’s lower Mercer Street and Broadway, Grand and Howard.
The individual and collaborative relationships formed during those months are now the Soho Renaissance Factory (SRF). Yahner visited the studio where much of the group’s art on plywood, once taken down, was saved.
From these works, the National Arts Club’s current exhibit—Voices of the Soho Renaissance—is drawn. The show is a sampling of the work that reclaimed the neighborhood, returning it to, as Ben Hartley, Executive Director of NAC observes, “The creative haven it once was, echoing and amplifying issues of artistic freedom, social justice and hope.”
The National Arts Club writes, “In the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter protests, Soho emerged as a source of spontaneous creativity not seen in the city for decades.” It was transformative. “The blank plywood barricades put in place by neighborhood businesses as protection became positive and elaborate art pieces.”
Trevor Croop aka Light Noise, a leader of SRF and exhibiting artist comments, “Our artwork conveys the effect and response to the events of 2020 while we continue to heal as a community of artists and citizens.” Croop recognizes that the exhibition offers the opportunity for an audience to witness a moment becoming a movement in real time.
Soho Renaissance Factory artists exhibiting include Konstance Patton, Trevor Croop, Amir Diop, Sule, Brendan T. McNally, Keiji Drysdale, and Manuel Alejandro Pulla.
The exhibition opened with a socially distanced, mask-wearing, limited gathering in early December and is available for public viewing on weekdays until Jan. 27, RSVP required.
Also on view are more than two-dozen black and white documentary photographs by photographer Graham Macindoe capturing the events, which took place in the streets of New York City during the summer.
Additionally, on a smattering of unopened stores in lower Soho, some of these artists’ work in situ are still up.
And, moving forward, last November, the New York Public Library commissioned SRF artists for window plywood murals at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library (former Mid-Manhattan Library), 5th Ave. & 40th St., undergoing renovation. The plywood murals are now inside the windows, visible from the sidewalk looking out.
In upcoming March, an additional art show, representative of that creative time and produced by another grouping—Art2Heart, will be opening at the National Arts Club.