Current artists: Amon Azizov, Wei Chen, Qiao Fu, Gao Min, Guo Kun Sheug, Artashes Karslian, Ji Yin Jin, Li Qun, Lin Ruo, Dean Lu, Ren Jien-Guo, Jorge Rivera, Sharif Sadiq, Peter Walsh, Xiang Yue Chuan, Dario Zapata, Zhuang Xuemin

Organized by Peter Walsh, Ongoing.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Musicians Booted from Washington Square Park

New York City Parks Department PEP officers have begun issuing tickets to musicians and other performers who ask for donations in Manhattan’s famed Washington Square Park. The park has been a meeting place for street musicians and their fans since it became a haven for the emerging folk music movement in the 1940s, more than 60 years ago.

For comprehensive coverage of the situation see Geoffrey Croft’s A Walk In the Park blog post “Bloomberg $ Cracks Down On Performers In Washington Square Park Ticket Blitz.” The post includes a dozen links to other articles.

Why now?

Although none of the major news outlets such as the New York Times have acknowledged it, the crackdown appears to be in direct response to street art vendors’ legal suits against the Bloomberg Administration’s new rules on “expressive matter” vending in public parks. The new rules have been in effect since July 2011 when a panel of state appellate judges vacated a temporary restraining order blocking the city from implementing the rules.

During the ongoing suits in both state and federal courts, visual artists have accused the city of selective enforcement of the rules. Ticketing musicians and other performers is likely an attempt to send a message to the courts that this is not true.

What’s different about this new crackdown on artists and musicians?

For the first time in the battle over the new rules, the city is issuing tickets enforcing a new rule that makes it illegal for artists, musicians and performers to operate within fifty foot of monuments (including park features like Washington Square Park’s fountain) and within five foot of park benches.

According to an email distributed on December 7, 2011 by artist Robert Lederman, who is the President of the street artists organization A.R.T.I.S.T. and a plaintiff in the federal court case against the city, “In Washington Square Park, as in many other NYC Parks, 50 feet from a monument alone precludes the entire park from First Amendment activity. The arch, the fountain and all statues and plaques are considered monuments. PEP officers have stated on video that in WSP there is no place for an artist or performer to legally set up, under these new rules.”

So what?

Officials and attorneys representing the New York City Department of Parks have repeatedly stated in both state and federal court that artists who are unable to secure an authorized “green medallion” spot created by the new rules in Central Park, Union Square Park, Battery Park and the High Line can simply decamp to other parks and locations. What the new crackdown against musicians and performers in Washington Square Park suggests is that those city officials and attorneys have been misrepresenting the scope and restrictiveness of the new rules. It should be interesting to see how the judges in those cases (Federal District Court Judge Richard J. Sullivan and Justice Milton A. Tingling, Jr. of the New York State Supreme Court) respond to evidence that they have been misled.


Community Board 2 will be holding a "Washington Square Park Speak Out" on Monday, December 19th at 6:30pm at NYU's Kimmel Center, 60 WSP South, 8th floor. If you want to email comments, send them to

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Judge Refuses to Extend Temporary Restraining Order at Zuccotti Park

New York State Supreme Court Judge Michael D. Stallman has refused to extend a Temporary Restraining Order blocking New York City's eviction of Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zucotti Park in Lower Manhattan. In doing so the judge essentially ruled that the  new rules imposed after the arrival of Occupy Wall Street by the parks owners, Brookfield Properties, are "reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions permitted under the First Amendment."

In his decision, Judge Stallman stated: "To the extent that City law prohibits the erection of structures, the use of gas or other combustible materials, and the accumulation of garbage and human waste in public places, enforcement of the law and the owner's rules appears reasonable to permit the owner to maintain its space in a hygienic, safe, and lawful condition, and to prevent it from being liable by the City or others for violations of law, or in tort. It also permits public access by those who live and work in the area who are the intended beneficiaries of this zoning bonus."

See the full text  of the decision here.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Update on the Public Space Issues for Occupy Wall Street: Liberty Square

Liberty Square / Zuccotti Park on the morning of Thursday, September 29, 2011. Lunching office workers in the foreground, Occupy Wall Street protesters in the center of the park.

I spoke today with Professor Jerold S. Kayden, Harvard Professor and author of the book “Privately Owned Public Space: The New York City Experience.” Professor Kayden graciously led me through the sometimes arcane business of New York City’s incentive zoning rules and regulations. Here’s what I found out from our conversation and from Professor Kayden’s book.

Zuccotti Park, known as Liberty Square by the Occupy Wall Street protesters, is considered a “special permit plaza.” Technically speaking, unlike previously reported, it’s probably not a “bonus” plaza, where the original developers secured extra floor space at One Liberty Plaza, the fifty four floor skyscraper just to the north of the park. Bonus office space at that building likely was allowed by the creation of the public space around the building itself. Instead the special permit plaza likely came into being in exchange for other zoning concessions authorized by the Department of City Planning.

Regardless, according to Kayden, the park’s owner Brookfield Office Properties likely agreed to provide a “physical place located on private property to which the owner has granted legally binding rights of access and use to members of the public, most often in return for something of value from the city” (Kayden, Privately Owned Public Space, p.21), that “value” in this case being a zoning concession.

So can Brookfield ask the protesters to leave?

No and Yes.

“The Zoning Resolution requires privately owned public spaces to host ‘public use,’ but never expressly defines limits, if any, an owner may impose upon such public use. The Department of City Planning has taken the position that an owner may prescribe ‘reasonable’ rules of conduct. In determining the definition of reasonable, the Department has looked to the rules of conduct applicable in City-owned parks for general guidance.” (Kayden, POPS, p.38.) Note that these are very similar to the kind of “time, place and manner” restrictions that the city is using against artists working in public parks and that are at the heart of artists’ current lawsuit against the Parks Department in the Lederman federal case.

Professor Kayden believes that creating a rule of conduct that says “no political protests” is unlikely to be considered “reasonable” under these terms, but that this is not a First Amendment issue. The park is still privately owned and says Kayden, “in all likelihood, it would be an uphill climb to maintain that Brookfield Office Properties is a governmental actor subject to the full provisions of the First Amendment.” (See American Manufacturers Mutual Insurance Company v. Delores Scott Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40 (1999) for a court ruling on standards for what constitutes “state action” by a private owner.)

However, while Brookfield likely can’t ask Occupy New York to leave Zuccotti Park because they are using the park for a political protest, they may be able to ask them to leave for other reasons. For example, if the park becomes unusable by anyone other than protestors, they could essentially be asked to leave so that others could use the park. Or, if they were creating too much noise, sleeping in the park, or acting in other manners that might block the use of the park by other park goers or community members, these might indeed constitute violations of reasonable rules.

Finally, according to Professor Kayden there is little case law established on what constitutes “reasonable” rules when applied to privately owned public spaces, and certainly none about political protesters using those spaces, so there are no clear guidelines about how a court might rule if action was taken by the park’s owners.

In the end, the situation at Liberty Square may be shaped more by public relation issues than by the legal issues. Neither Brookfield Office Properties, the owners of the public space known as Zuccotti Park, nor the New York Police Department are likely to want to be perceived as initiating a crackdown against protesters that would be watched around the world and could potentially spark even larger protests.

Peter Walsh

Friday, September 30, 2011

Privately Owned Public Space? “Occupy Wall Street” Real Estate Questions

Rainy Morning at Liberty Square: Occupy Wall Street HQ

For almost two weeks hundreds of protesters calling themselves “Occupy Wall Street” have been camped out in an open air plaza located between Wall Street and the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan. The protesters have set up information tables, a library, a General Assembly area, a kitchen, a media center and a space for protest sign making. Known as Liberty Square by the protestors and named Zuccotti Park by Brookfield Office Properties after its chairman John C. Zuccotti, the plaza is a “POPS”: a privately owned public space.

What’s a POPS and what does this mean for the protesters?

In the case of Liberty Square, Brookfield Office Properties owns the land and maintains the park, but the plaza is considered open to the public. The go-to reference here is the book “Privately Owned Public Space: The New York City Experience”, by Harvard professor Jerold S. Kayden, which was published by the New York City Department of City Planning and the Municipal Art Society of New York in 2000. The Department of City Planning website also has some helpful background information. There are currently over 500 POPS in the city and they all are outgrowths of the 1961 Zoning Resolution (and various later amendments). The goal of that resolution was to allow real estate developers to build bigger than normally allowed by city zoning regulations (including, according to the DCP, “relief from certain height and setback restrictions”) and in exchange the developers have been contractually required to provide new publically accessible spaces.

Practically speaking, in 1968 Brookfield Office Properties essentially “bought” the right to build an additional 500,000 square feet of office space at its 54 story building One Liberty Plaza, just to the north of the park, in exchange for agreeing to build and maintain a public space. For some more on this deal see this recent New York Times article.

So what laws shape the use of Liberty Square/Zuccotti Park?

According to Professor Kayden’s book, when a POPS deal goes down, the developers agree to provide legally binding rights of access to members of the public in exchange for the value they get from the relaxation of specific zoning regulations. Can Brookfield Office Properties tell the protesters to get out? It all depends on what is in the various legal documents they signed with the city.

Calls are in to the NYC Department of City Planning and also to Professor Kayden and we hope to have more detailed information soon.

Special thanks to Geoffrey Croft of NYC Park Advocates for the tip on Professor Kayden's book.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Session Nine: Gao Min and Peter Walsh

Gao Min and Peter Walsh on Wien Walk in Central Park, September 3, 2011. Photo by Wei Chen
Shaded by the cool oak canopy of Central Park’s Wein Walk, artists Gao Min and Peter Walsh finished their exchange of drawings this morning – number fifteen in the ongoing series of portrait exchanges in the Central Park Portrait Exchange. The session had been interrupted three weeks earlier when a brisk trade of art patrons prevented Walsh from beginning his drawing. Gao had a line of customers!

Sitting for his portrait this morning Gao laughed, “It’s been a long time since I’ve sat for someone else. It’s hard! When I was a student at art school in China we would sit for each other, but it’s been years.” Gao is a former art professor and former director of the Division of Western Arts in the Department of Fine Arts at Southwest-China University, a large school located in Chongqing, China. Among his many achievements is his college level instructional art book “Color,” which has gone through 13 editions in China.

“I’ve been drawing in Central Park for sixteen years,” he says, “though mainly now I come on weekends. Aside from the extra money, I come because of the faces. So many faces to draw!” During the week Gao works in a commercial art studio. Trained in the realist drawing tradition (both Chinese and Western), Gao also paints at home and is experimenting with new works that he has yet to release to the public. To see older works, go to his website here.

Some thoughts from Peter Walsh:

“Ouch. I try not to see the Central Park Portrait Exchange as a competitive form, but when my work is placed next to someone as talented as Gao Min, it’s hard not to feel the pain!

I was excited to complete this exchange because I had first met Min in New York State court in September of 2010 when we both testified against the New York City Parks Department by authenticating our videos of artists being abused by new park rules that forced them to sprint into Central Park at 6am every morning. Click here and here for details. Min’s disturbing video was appropriately called “Artist or Race Cow?”; mine was “NYC Mayor Bloomberg Forces Artists to Run for their Livelihoods.

That said, although my rough drawing of Min pales next to his elegant one of me, I did capture some part of a likeness of him. “It’s fine,” says Min, “you’re good enough to work here in the park if you wanted to. People will pay.”

I’ll take that as a thumbs up! Thanks, Min.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Whose Park Is It? Artist Lederman Arrested Protesting at Panel Discussion

Robert Lederman Protesting at Panel Discussion held at the Museum of the City of New York. Photo courtesy of "A Walk in the Park".

Carrying a hand-painted sign that said “PARK PRIVATIZATION IS A REAL ESTATE SCAM - IT IS ALL ABOUT RAISING PROPERTY VALUES FOR THE MAYOR’S WEALTIEST FRIENDS,” artist Robert Lederman was arrested recently while protesting at a Parks panel discussion that featured New York City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe and other supporters of the unelected “public/private partnerships” that increasingly control the administration of New York City’s parks.

Lederman is the president of the street artists organization A.R.T.I.S.T and is currently suing the Parks Department in Federal Court over new rules that restrict artists’ right to work in city parks.

Here’s the news coverage, including video of Lederman’s arrest.

Videos of the protest and arrest:

“Night Of Protests At Museum Park Funding Forum”
A Walk in the Park, by Geoffrey Croft, August 13, 2011

“Which Park Is It, Anyway?”
ParkSlopePatch, by Johanna Clearfield, August 12, 2011

“Is the revenue-generating park a good thing? Commissioner Benepe says it ‘depends on who’s in charge’”
Capital New York, by Dan Rosenblum, August 11, 2011

“Activist is arrested at a panel about private funding for parks”
The Villager, by Albert Amateau, August 11, 2011

Monday, August 8, 2011

Session Eight: Amon Azizov and Peter Walsh

Amon Azizov on Wien Walk in Central Park. Photo Peter Walsh

As he waits patiently for his customers in Central Park under Wien Walk's majestic oaks and plane trees - the mothers from New Jersey and Upstate New York bringing their tween children, the middle-aged tourists from Ohio, the young lovers from the Bronx - artist Amon Azizov feeds the squirrels peanuts from a bag.

Dressed in a denim jacket with the collar turned up against the sun and a cap riding low on his head, Mr. Azizov is prepared for a long day drawing in the open air. Every item in his kit, from the lightweight painting easel, to his worn brushes which sport just the right spring in the bristles, to the Velcro he uses to quickly transform his sample portraits of figures like Nelson Mandela into a workstation, suggests a man committed to using the fewest materials to achieve the highest ends. He has the aura of a sea captain or a mountain climber.

Originally from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where he trained as an artist and was a member of the Soviet Union Artists Union, Mr. Azizov uses the “brush technique” like his fellow former soviet Artashes Karslian working just a few yards down the path on Wien Walk. “I’ve been working here in Central Park for about seven year now,” he says. Mr. Azizov and Peter Walsh exchanged portraits on Saturday morning, August 8th, 2011.

Amon Azizov and Peter Walsh exchange portraits.

Some comments from Peter Walsh:

“Amon and I were introduced by Artashes, who explained the portrait exchange to him in Russian. But I found his English to be quite good. He asked that I draw first and he second. My own drawing went quickly and I was able to catch a good likeness but make a rather bad drawing. I fell to some of the most basic errors of portraiture: I had trouble setting the eyes and I cropped the back of Amon’s head where I should have given it room. Being an amateur, I was rusty.

Amon took a bit longer to do his portrait of me, which is quite good and has the clean, airbrushed finish that the brush technique produces. First he laid in the over-all structure of my head and then he methodically dropped in each of the parts: my mouth and nose, then my right eye, then my left, then my left ear, then my shirt.

When he’s not doing portraits, Amon is a sculptor. “I’ve developed my own technique that relies on sheet metal. No clay or other sculpting materials,” he says. “For example, about two years ago a completed a 16-foot tall giraffe.”

I was pleased to learn that we live fairly close to each other in Brooklyn, Amon at the Newkirk stop on the Q train and me at the Church Avenue stop on the F. Not so surprising I suppose as the neighborhoods have many Russian speakers and communities from across the former Soviet territories. Between us lie several great Central Asian restaurants on Ditmas Avenue such as Restaurant Afsona (Uzbeki) and Café Sim-Sim (Azerbaijani).

The drawings will be posted soon.

NOTE: I also began an exchange with Min Gao, a very talented Chinese artist who also shot some important video footage that has been used in court to defend artists working in New York City’s parks. But business picked up quickly and customers were waiting so I wasn’t able to do my portrait of Gao. We’ll complete the exchange soon.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Finally! A Video Post for the Central Park Portrait Exchange

Finally! Over a year into the portrait exchange and I've finally produced a video post for the blog.

What took so long? Too many stories to tell!

I've been struggling to sort out what needed to be said and to figure out how to keep a clean narrative that can convey the rich complexity of all that has been going on. There's the story of the portrait exchange itself. There's the story of the ongoing legal battle of artists versus the city and the Parks Department. There are the stories of each artist working in the park and my story as the organizer too. There are stories about drawing and the different portrait techniques being used. There's the story about where each artist came from and how they trained. And more.

In the end, I decided to start with the story I began with when I originally imagined the portrait exchange. What makes art valuable? What happens when two artists meet and engage each other in a reciprocal artistic exchange using the same materials at the same time and place under the same conditions? It's both a competitive and a collaborative situation. What will these portraits look like together as more and more exchanges are completed?

Here is the first of what I hope will be several videos.

My thanks go out to all the artists who have participated so far (and to those who will participate in the future too!). Also special thanks to Kathy Brew and Roberto Guerra for their impressive video footage, to Louise Ma for her cheerful willingness to lend a hand and to help with Mandarin translation on the spot in the park, to all the photographers who have helped so far including Alex Ramirez-Mallis and to all my friends and allies who helped vet the video before I set it loose in the world, including Christopher Quirk, Hope Ginsburg, Deidre Hoguet and Emily Walsh.

Peter Walsh

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ai Wei Wei Confirmed as Central Park Portrait Artist

Chinese artist and dissident Ai Wei Wei was confirmed today by the New York Times as having been a portrait artist in Central Park during his sojourn in New York City in the late 1980s and early 1990s. At the same moment, New York City officials continue to crackdown on artists working in Central Park, directly across the street from where New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg himself unveiled Ai Wei Wei’s "Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads".

In an article from 1991 about the death of portrait artist Lin Lin in Times Square, Times reporter Richard Bernstein, who identifies Ai Wei Wei as "a painter and sculptor who was one of the first young Chinese artists to come to this country" says "A typical day might include several hours in the afternoon drawing portraits in Central Park, Mr. Ai said. Then, a portrait artist might travel down to 34th Street to work for a few hours in the early evening outside Macy's. Later at night, he might venture over to Times Square, where, despite the dangers of the neighborhood, there are often many prospective customers late into the night."

Today's article on Ai's New York City photos at the Asia Society states "Mr. Ai worked as a street artist while he lived in New York, charging $15 to $25 for a portrait in Times Square." As usual, the Times, which has consistently taken the city's side in the current dispute between artists and the Parks Department, avoids stating that Ai worked in the parks, even though their own archive confirms it.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Brian Haw and the Fight for Public Space

Brian Haw (middle) with Peter Walsh (left) and Zuky Serper (right) at Parliament Square, London, November 2, 2004. Photo: Susan Kelly.

Peace to Brian Haw (1949-2011).

Coming up out of the tube into London’s bright mid-day sun, I wheeled my election cart up into Parliament Square, Big Ben’s Clock Tower looming over me as I struggled to get my bearings. Immediately I was welcomed politely to a patch of park sidewalk across the street from Parliament by a scruffy, sharp-minded man in a winter coat and a cap covered with political buttons like the hull of a ship is encrusted by barnacles. It was November 2, 2004, Election Day in the U.S. presidential election, and Brian Haw had already been on site for three years. Brian, armed with a cheap bullhorn and a forest of hand-lettered signs, was a one-person campaign against the Iraq War. He kindly gave me tips on the lay of the land as I set up a voting booth for Plebiscite2004, ostensibly an art project, that I had been running for about a month in the run-up to the election.

This post is not about that project or U.S. elections or the War in Iraq. Instead, I’d like to honor Brian as a defender of the right of ordinary people to make use of public spaces in vigorous, difficult and honorable ways, as opposed to notions of public spaces as being white-washed “neutral spaces” or “quiet zones” or even worse, public-private real estate to be sold off to the highest bidder.

Like the current and on-going court battle over artists’ rights to work and sell in New York City’s parks, Brian’s extended legal fight over his right to use a park sidewalk in London and to speak his views publicly gets at the heart of what we want democracy to be. For example, what does it mean that across the street from where Ai Wei Wei’s "Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads" is now installed in front of Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has instituted a crack-down on artists’ ability to interact with the public. This is not meant to conflate the seriousness of Ai’s detention with the ability of a small group of artists to make a living, but rather to point out that the fight for public space and freedom of action is being played out across the world – in London as well as Beijing, in New York as well as Cairo.

It takes people like Brian Haw and Robert Lederman, the repeatedly arrested president of the New York City based street artists’ group A.R.T.I.S.T., being willing to fight on the street and in the courts to be able to keep the “public” in public space.

Every art action on the street entails a negotiation over the right to be there. On that day in London in 2004, Brain Haw used his experience to help me defend my own right to be there as City of London police officers pressured me to move. Literally I was given a choice: be arrested if I stayed on one side of a crack in the sidewalk, or be fine if I moved to the other side (in this case, into the jurisdiction of the City of Westminster). Here in New York for the same political art project, I had to get the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) to intercede on my behalf in order to set up in front of the Unisphere in Queens’ Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The street is the front line of the push between regular people and the authorities – no matter where you are.

For more on Brian’s life and times and his court battles, see these links:

Brian Haw, New York Times Obituary

Brian Haw, Wikipedia

Brian Haw, Al Jazeera Obituary

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Public Space Battle in NYC Grows: City Actions Now Extend Beyond Artists to Include Musicians and Newspapers

As scorching summer temperatures hit Manhattan, sparring over what a person can do in New York City’s public parks has heated up too.

In May a panel of New York State Appeals Court judges allowed new park rules to go into effect, dramatically restricting where artists can work and sell in four busy city parks, pending the outcome of an artists’ lawsuit against the city’s Parks Department.

“Panel Finds Vendor Restrictions Do Not Violate Free Speech Rights” New York Law Journal, May 18, 2011.
"Appeals Court Rules Against Artists in Dua v. City of New York Department of Parks Suit," Cental Park Portrait Exchange, May 18, 2011.

Meanwhile the Parks Department ordered it’s Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) officers to expand enforcement of restrictions beyond artist vendors to include musicians in newly created “Quiet Zones,” including near the crowded and popular Bethesda Fountain in the heart of Central Park.

“Musicians chased from Central Park,” New York Post, May 28, 2011.
“Musician Crackdown At Central Park's Bethesda Fountain,” A Walk in the Park, May 29, 2011.
“No Radios by the Fountain, Please! Or Cellos!,” New York Times, June 5, 2011.

Concurrently, Robert Lederman, president of the street artists organization A.R.T.I.S.T and an artist/plaintiff in a second suit against the city, in federal court, reports that new depositions of PEP officials confirm that sellers of newspapers such as the New York Times, New York Post and the Daily News are now officially banned from selling from temporary stands in parks such as Union Square. Those news-sellers would be forced to compete for the same restricted locations used by artists.

“Why Bloomberg is Evicting Newspaper Vendors From 4 NYC Parks,” Robert Lederman, June 8, 2011.
“Art vendors spots restricted at Union Square, High Line,” The Villager, Volume 81, Number 2: June 9 to 15, 2011.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

NYC Begins Crackdown on Musicians in Central Park

The New York City Parks Department has begun a crack down against musicians performing at Central Park’s famed Bethesda Fountain, targeting a classical harpist, a father of nine singing spirituals and a double-bass player who loves Bach, according to the New York Post.
“Is this in preparation for a new 30 table bar/food concession the City is quietly planning to install five feet away?” asks the blog A Walk in the Park.
The news comes on the heels of a recent New York State appeals court decision that removed a temporary injunction protecting artists and other expressive matter vendors working in four Manhattan parks from new park rules limiting their right to work and sell in public parks.
According to the Post, “When asked about the music crackdown, a spokesman for the Central Park Conservancy, the cash-flush nonprofit that runs the park for the city, said: ‘The fountain is a place for quiet reflection.’”
The battle over public space in New York City will continue soon in federal court as artists take their case back to a courtroom in the United States District Court’s Southern District of New York.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

5:55am: Sunday in the Park or Horse Race?

Artists waiting to race into Central Park's Wien Walk, 5:55am, Sunday, May 29, 2011
As the summer drawing season begins, the removal of a court-ordered restraining order blocking enforcement of new park rules is again forcing artists to fight for limited spaces in New York City's Central Park and three other Manhattan parks. This morning, with a 6:00am nod of the head from a Parks Department PEP officer, a dozen artists sprinted into Central Park's Wien Walk to secure locations. For video of the foot race shot last summer (July 2010), click here.

Then the waiting began again. The park goers and tourists who are these artists' dedicated fans and customers don't really begin arriving in any substantial numbers for about 5 hours. A long day gets longer with the new park rules.

Artists waiting for customers in Central Park's Wien Walk, 7:15am, Sunday, May 29, 2011.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Appeals Court Rules Against Artists in Dua v. City of New York Department of Parks Suit

A panel of judges from the Appellate Division, First Department of the New York State Supreme Court affirmed a lower court ruling by Justice Milton A. Tingling denying a preliminary injunction to the artist plaintiffs in the Dua v. City of New York Department of Parks suit. The unanimous decision vacates the current temporary restraining order blocking the implementation of a new set of Park Rules and is a setback for artists working in New York City's Public Parks.

The new rules will go into effect sometime this week, returning artists to the difficult circumstances experienced last summer between July 19, 2010, when the rules were first implemented and August 25, 2010, when Justice Martin Schoenfeld granted a temporary injunction blocking enforcement of those rules. Click here to see those Rules, (Then click to the right on the link: "Adoption of Rule Amendments and Maps Regarding Expressive Matter Vending [as published in the City Record on June 18, 2010 - PDF, 781 KB]").

In making their decision, the five judges ruled that the plaintiffs "failed to demonstrate 'a likelihood of success on the merits' of their challenge to the subject regulations, since they failed to show that the regulations violated their rights under the New York State Constitution." To read the decision, click here.

What next?

No word yet from the Dua artist plaintiffs, but we should know something soon.

Robert Lederman, President of the street artists' organization A.R.T.I.S.T., vowed today in an email blast to win his own suit in Federal Court against the City Parks Department, Lederman et al. v Parks Department. Mr. Lederman stated that that lawsuit "is proceeding according to schedule."

For an overview on the legal situation see this article in the New York Law Journal.

Or this article from A Walk in the Park.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Drawings Installed!: Incident No. 42

Installation of portrait drawings at the Incident Report Viewing Station in Hudson, New York.
Incident No.42 includes the Round Robin (stage left) & Kristopher Perry (stage right).  

The Portrait Drawing Round Robin in Hudson, New York was a big success with seven talented artists donating their time and skill to creating a large grid of 49 drawings. As always with the Round Robins, the artists worked fast and furiously to complete the project in a reasonable amount of time. Each drawing was done in 7 minutes flat! Do the math and you will see that we squeezed the session into a grueling two hours of speed drawing. The drawings are now installed in the Incident Report Viewing Station at 348 Warren Street in Hudson.

Special thanks to the seven participating artists for their wonderful drawings and for their intense focus and good humor during the session. Also a round of applause is due to the Hudson Opera House for their generosity in allowing us to use their workshop space, to Max Goldfarb for inviting us to do the Round Robin in Hudson and to Christopher Quirk and Judy Garvey for their assistance during the session.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Drawing Leveled: Portrait Exchange Round Robin In Hudson, New York

Artists evaluating a portrait drawing grid at a Round Robin at Sculpture Center in Queens, New York.
The structure of the Central Park Portrait Exchange limits the participating artists to individuals working in the park and artist Peter Walsh, the Exchange organizer. If you've been itching to participate in a portrait exchange yourself, now's your chance!

Artist Peter Walsh is organizing his fourth Portrait Drawing Round Robin on Easter weekend at Hudson, New York's Hudson Opera House at the invitation of Max Goldfarb of the Incident Report Viewing Station. Too far away? Don't worry, there will be more Round Robins coming up.

What's a "Portrait Drawing Round Robin" anyway and how does it work?

Participants get together for a few hours to create portrait drawings of each other and construct a wall sized portrait “matrix” of the completed drawings: portraits of the participants shown horizontally, portraits by them vertically.

Lots of things go on in this process and the completed grids are truly mesmerizing. The Round Robins create a unique kind of group portraiture that turns the traditional power relationships of portraiture on their head.

Portrait Drawing Round Robin
at Hudson Opera House
327 Warren Street, Hudson, NY
Saturday, April 23rd, 2011, 4:30pm - 6:30pm

Click here for details on previous round robins.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Horrendous along with the Exquisite

"Quite large numbers of LF's works founder.
'I could tell that it wouldn't develop into a finished picture. There's something wrong.'"

p. 104 in Martin Gayford’s Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucien Freud

Some of the drawings made for the Portrait Exchange are really gorgeous. Sometimes they were laid down on the paper so quickly that they seem to have been miraculously pulled out of a magician's top hat. Others - many of my drawings, in fact - are small catastrophes, neither good drawings nor accurate likenesses.

Should I just politely fold them into the kitchen trash bin and hurry them to the curb so they can be wisked away before they do more damage?

No. I don't think so.

You can see them all here on this blog. If the editor's creed is to "cut, cut, cut," what is to be gained by showing everything, the horrendous along with the exquisite?

Traditionally the artist cherry-picks the best work they do and discards the rest to give the illusion of mastery that builds the artist's reputation, their "brand" as we might call it today. However, when you don't edit, you get a full set of "data points" and when you share that set of data points, you allow the viewer to make their own conclusions about what's happening in the set. That's reason one.

I want to see all the drawings made in the Central Park Portrait Exchange because I really don't know what the drawings are going to look like. Who is in the park making portraits and what do they look like? If each one of them draws the same person under similar conditions but all the drawings are uniquely different, what is the relationship between these portraits?

At the heart of the matter is the ephemeral nature of human perception as it plays out within the tradition of looking at another person's face and translating that face into marks on a piece of paper. Editing out the "bad" drawings skews the data. That's reason two.


I was chagrined to see that someone has "favorited" one of the Portrait Exchange pairs on my public Flickr account and cruelly enough its the most hideous two drawings done so far! Qiao Fu and I had a truly bad day and now someone's cherry-picking our failures! Ouch.

Here's that "favorite" for your enjoyment:

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Panel of Judges Issues Preliminary Appellate Injunction on Behalf of Artists

A panel of New York State appellate judges has granted a motion for a preliminary appellate injunction barring the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation from enforcing its new rules restricting artists’ ability to make and sell artwork in four New York City parks.

The victory for the artists will be in effect until the judges can make a final ruling on their appeal against the trial court’s denial of a preliminary injunction. That ruling is not expected until April or May of 2011, meaning that the artists will be able to work according to the old rules until that time.

According to plaintiffs’ attorney Jon Schulyer Brooks, the litigation partner at Philips Nizer who argued the motion, “As a matter of law, the decision by the First Department means the artists demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of their appeal.” This is a high standard and bodes well for the artists’ case.

For an excellent recap of the entire ongoing stand-off between the artists and the city, see Geoffrey Croft’s  February 1, 2011 article, Judge Extends Artists’ Right To Display & Sell In NYC Parks” at A Walk in the Park.

Click here for a copy of the Appellate Court’s Order.

The five justices making the order from Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court, First Judicial Department are Peter Tom (presiding), Angela M. Mazzerelli, Diane T. Renwick, Helen E. Freedman and Sallie Manzanet-Daniels.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Glabella, Philtrum, Tragus, Caruncle: Do Faces Matter?

Lucian Freud with Martin Gayford. Photograph: David Dawson.
 “The artist who tries to serve nature is only an executive artist. And, since the model he so faithfully copies is not going to be hung up next to the picture, since the picture is going to be there on its own, it is of no interest whether it is an accurate copy of the model.”

Lucien Freud, 1954

Really, Mr. Freud?!

I’ve been reading Martin Gayford’s engaging new book Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucien Freud, just released this past October 2010 by Thames & Hudson. I was gratified to learn that the esteemed artist needed 40 sittings with his model Gayford, spanning 7 months, to complete the single modest canvas of the author’s head. Gayford explains it thus on page 145 of his book:

“Thus a painted image, certainly one by LF, is different in nature from an instantaneous image such as a photograph. David Hockney puts it like this: the painting of him by LF has over a hundred hours ‘layered into it,’ and with them innumerable visual sensations and thoughts.”

During the monstrous Bush II years here in the USA, I was appalled by the lack of accountability of those individuals running the Bush administration. They seemed to be able to break the law, in public, and get away with it. Yet at the same time, I was an artist, and claimed that right - to be unaccountable to anyone - for myself. Certainly I wasn’t committing crimes when I made art, yet still, if I demanded accountability of others I should be able to be held to account myself.

For me, portrait drawing has that quality of accountability. Anyone can visually evaluate a portrait’s accuracy, bypassing experts and holding an artist to account. A child can do it. We all spend our lives evaluating faces.

While it may be true that down the road, once an artwork has been released from the studio and sent into the world, each picture will be “on its own” with no original model to refer to, in the short run the work needs to hew closely to the world, even if a part of that world is the filter of an artist’s experiences and thoughts. Clearly Freud thinks so himself. Why else spend months looking at a particular individual’s face?

What I love about the portraits made by the dozen Central Park artists who have participated so far in the Portrait Exchange is, that they have created the beginnings of a physical baseline of drawings - using a particular face, in this case my own - that bypasses photography and that is calibrating the way people see and experience each other. A single drawing may be “on its own,” but the series as a whole illuminates the rigorous but imperfect manner in which artists evaluate the world.

Take another look at the drawings by clicking on the flickr slide show at the top of this blog.