On the Grand Concourse at about 166th Street, you’ll find a very large Renaissance-style villa, with expansive grounds and a wrought iron gate. Built in the 1920‘s by financier Andrew Freedman as a home for the elderly, this incongruous, imposing landmarked structure – the Andrew Freedman Home, now hosts artists’ residencies, as well as a bed and breakfast.
The current exhibits are by other artists. State Goods: Art in the Era of Mass Incarceration, features works made by people who are either currently in prison, or who had previously served time. Displayed in both the Executive Room Gallery and in the corridor, these 50 works are a powerful testimony to the skill and ingenuity of the artists, who often repurposed materials – cigarette boxes, newspapers, prison uniforms – owing to a lack of art supplies. The show highlights the wide variety of art made in prisons: paintings, drawings, mixed media pieces and sculptures. Most of the pieces stand on their own; their backstory adds an appreciation for the obstacles the artists faced to make these works. Here are my picks:
In Elapisum: master & Helm, Jared Owens started with the blueprint of the Fairton Federal Institution, where he was incarcerated for over a decade, then superimposed an image of a slave ship over it, abstracting them – and the people they confined – out across the panels, giving them the feel of an ancient Egyptian ruin. This piece grabs you, even before you know what it’s about.
Russell Craig made this pastel self portrait assembled on his prison documents, entitled Prototype. He later created a larger version, entitled Self-Portrait (which is in the collection of Hill Harper).
Eddie Kates specializes in detailed graphite illustrations, three of which are on display, and show a highly developed technical facility, and empathy for his subjects. He was a student in J.D. McGuire’s college level art courses at New Jersey State prisons.
Lisette Oblitas-Cruz was imprisoned for four and a half years for causing a car accident in which another woman died. Art was her way of coping with prison hardships, and carrying responsibility for the death of another.
Dean Gillispie has created several dioramas in the show, each a small slice of rural life. In this one,Spiz’ Bait Shop, he used cassette tape cases to make the windows, cardboard and wood chips for the shop, and he fashioned the signs using advertisements he cut from magazines. Gillispie was released from prison after serving 20 years for crimes he did not commit, and now serves on the Board of the Ohio Innocence Project.
Gilberto Rivera formed a collective with Jared Owens and Jessie Krimes, during the time he was incarcerated with them. An Institutional Nightmare reflects this time, not only in the uniform that identified him as a “federal inmate” but also by the use of Rivera’s sentencing and release papers.
A year after he was released, Rivera was working on a construction site when a machine cut off his left hand. Undaunted, he trained himself to make art with only one hand. This drawing, Still Unconquered, was made after he lost his hand.
The Andrew Freedman home is also hosting a concurrent exhibit of photographs by the 10 winners of En Foco’s Photography Fellowships. There are many excellent works here, so be sure to pay a visit to this show as well.
These exhibits are up only until June 16th. See them before they close. The Andrew Freedman Home is located at 1125 Grand Concourse, the Bronx.