On Saturday, for just one day, the rooftop of Gawker Media was open to the public to display "Mom and Popism," a collaboration between Gawker Artists and the storefront photography of Jim and Karla Murray. The duo's photos were blown up to near life-size, mounted on fronts, then enhanced with graffiti art, creating a kind of revised virtual New York.
But the full emotional experience of Mom & Popism begins on the street level. The building is located on Elizabeth, one of the most jarringly gentrified streets in town. Where I used to eat hot bread straight from LaRosa's, where old Italian ladies used to sit on the sidewalk to peel potatoes, there are now high-end shops, multi-million dollar homes, and European investo-tourists. The only mom and pop left here is Albanese Meats, still open for business.
At 210 Elizabeth, you walk up the stairs and through the Gawker offices, a vast and airy loft with curved brick ceilings and polished wood surfaces on which dozens of flat-screen monitors sit waiting for the day's new-media broadcast. Up on the roof, a DJ is banging out the beats.
Surrounding the seating is the virtual city. Not life-size, more like clubhouse-size, this shrunken city speaks to your child self, for whom a miniature house is just right. In this way, the storefronts tantalize. Their doors seem like they might open to another, more intensely Technicolored world.
You want to step through the entrance of the Stage deli and order a greasy breakfast in this alt-NYC. The counterman is there, just as he always is, wiping down the counter. At Esposito's Meat Shop, you want to inhale the smell of cured pork.
But you can't. This isn't real. The graffiti art splashed across the storefront's faces, often intermingling three-dimensionally with the signage, tells you that you're not looking at reality. This is the hyperreal. These are simulacra.
In the future, when the entire city as we've known it has vanished, when all the mom-and-pops are gone, what will remain are photographs. We rely on them now, to remember and rebuild the lost city in our minds.
Maybe, someday, the re-construction of virtual neighborhoods will become a ritual. Artists and other nostalgists will erect wooden fronts and paper them with giant photographs (thank goodness for Jim and Karla's exhaustive work). Old ladies will unfold beach chairs, sit down, and peel potatoes. The butcher will stand at the door of his shop, wiping the blood from his hands.
Someday, we won't have the real city. But we will have this.
See all my photos of Mom & Popism here