In early July, we attended the opening of Lush Life LES, where galleries around the Lower East Side had each taken a chapter of Richard Price’s Lush Life and attempted to echo it in art. I read the book last year, and wasn’t really sure how the gritty crime novel was going to be remade into a gallery walk. Honestly, it seemed like an odd choice for the event.There are no big abstract ideas or ambiguities in the book that would naturally take to being interpreted by visual art. Not that I don’t like the book, I really enjoyed its characterizations and descriptions of the LES. But it’s not poetry.
Some of it was unsurprisingly a little literal. One of the first galleries we saw (and we visited all nine “chapters”) had objects from the book spread out like props on the ground. Another had a recreation of the street memorial to the young man who gets murdered in the book (see above). Those were enjoyable, if not exactly good art, to me. I feel like it should be possible to reflect or be inspired by a book, yet have that work of art be able to stand on its own.
My favorite exhibit in Lush Life LES was Chapter Three: First Bird (A Few Butterflies) at Invisible Exports. That chapter of the book takes place shortly after the central murder, and follows the shooter in his immediate reaction and ends with an image of a bird. The little gallery was packed with wonderful bird art, like the above sculpture that looks like a melting candle, a video of a flock of doves flying around cases of taxidermy birds, and really interesting paintings. It was honestly the only gallery where I really felt moved by the art. Of course, I do love birds.
It was really nice to spend the whole evening walking around the Lower East Side. Even though I work quite close, I don’t really spend much time in the neighborhood. It feels so much more like walking in another era than the neighboring East Village. The streets are closer, the fire escapes more crowding, the tenements less edged out by new glass condos. The danger that lurked in its streets in the pages of Lush Life has somewhat receded, but the abstract neighborhood I’d created in my head while reading was still there in fragments on the real streets of the Lower East Side.