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TLD Interview: LUSH LIFE Curators Franklin Evans & Omar Lopez-Chahoud

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There has been some excitement here on the Lower East Side around the big group show, Lush Life, which opens (officially) this evening at nine different galleries around the neighborhood. The conspirators behind the show, visual artist Franklin Evans (a rising star with an installation currently on view at MoMA PS1) and renowned independent curator Omar Lopez-Chahoud, were inspired by the 2008 Richard Price novel of the same name. The events in the book play out as a crime story – but Price’s focus is on the radically different cultures that exist side by side (and often collide) within the L.E.S. community. They are using the book’s nine chapter headings as themes for each gallery. Over 60 artists have been invited to participate.

I was lucky enough to speak with Evans and Lopez-Chahoud recently at the Sue Scott Gallery on Rivington Street, where “Chapter One – Whistle” had just been installed. We were joined by Benjamin Tischer, of Invisible Exports, to discuss the show and what it took to pull off such a large undertaking.

Franklin Evans & Omar Lopez-Chahoud at Sue Scott Gallery

Evans and Lopez-Chahoud spoke in tandem, often overlapping each other and helping complete each others’ thoughts. They told me they had been talking about putting on a group show on the Lower East Side for a while and when someone recommended Lush Life as a theme, they both became very excited.  Then they became a little nervous because curators usually need more that a year’s notice to schedule a show.  (They began planning late last fall.) Lopez-Chahoud said, “We were very lucky because the galleries we approached were able to move things around and somehow were more flexible for us.”

As far as selecting the artists, the two sat down with their own top picks, which created a list of well over 100 artists. From that, they decided on 60. “We both had to agree, that was important,” said Evans, “And we did, in the end. And we didn’t fight,” Lopez-Chahoud said, chuckling.

Lopez-Chahoud said they wanted to do something about community and carried the theme over to a community of artists, as well. They included many artists who had already shown work in galleries on the Lower East Side but made sure to put them in a show at a gallery where their work had not been shown before.

I asked if the work being presented by the artists was inspired solely by this show or if it was work they had done previously.   “All of the above,” said Evans, “a combination, yeah,” said Lopez-Chahoud. Some of the artists own work already fit right in with the themes and some were inspired by the chapter titles, such as: “Liar,” “A few butterflies,” and “The Devil You Know.”

I wondered what effect gentrification of the neighborhood is having on the art scene here. Lopez-Chahoud said, “There are still pockets of immigrants and creativity that will always be here. That’s still very strong.”  As far as the art scene, Evans said, the L.E.S. is an interesting and vibrant place to see new work right now. But they both agreed most artists can’t afford to live here. “All my studio visits are always out in Bushwick,” said Lopez-Chahoud.

Benjamin Tischer, of Invisible Exports, chimed in, saying he thought there were still a lot of artists living here. He also said, what he likes most about the neighborhood and the art scene, is that, “It’s a more collaborative environment (than say, Chelsea) it’s a real community and everyone participates – restaurants, business owners, are all engaged with each other. You don’t see that in New York very often.”

Three “Chapters” have already opened: Whistle at Sue Scott, Liar at On Stellar Rays, and First Bird (A Few Butterflies) at Invisible Exports. The Village Voice’s Runnin’ Scared blog has been following each opening closely. The other galleries will open their shows concurrently with tonight’s grand-scale opening party, from 6-9pm. Most of the exhibits will run through July and some through mid-August.

Invisible Exports has produced an entertaining video tour of the neighborhood with Richard Price here. Kianga Ellis, an art-lover and social media visionary (mentioned previously, here) is hosting the website, a blog, and all sorts of social media events surrounding the show.

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