I am not a real New Yorker. I admit it. I grew up in Connecticut and for the last ten years I have lived in Westchester. I have never, ever, lived in New York City. No rats or roaches, no water bugs or cranky supers or gun battles down the block. I haven’t had the two bedroom, three roommate Murray Hill bro-partment, I didn’t live in the massive Williamsburg loft before it was a thing and I never had the 400 sq ft studio with the sink/tub combo in a tiny west village 4 story walk up. But I know these places. I know the places my father grew up in Manhattan and Queens. I know where his father lived on the Lower East Side in the Nineteen teens. But I will always be an outsider in the city.
I have the good fortune that a great many of my friends are adoptive New Yorkers. Nathan Kensinger, a west coast native, is a documentarian who has created films and photo essays that reveal the blighted parts of this city but highlight the fading and fleeting treasures. An excellent recent piece on casitas in the Bronx reminded me just how little I know of this New York.
I am drawn to the idea that an outsider would become the intrepid explorer of New York, or any adopted homeland. The other thing that brought me down this memory lane ramble was the announcement of the artists for PS1’s Greater New York show. There were many names, young and old, that stood out. The one that hit home was Rudy Burckhardt.
Burckhardt was a photographer, a filmmaker and a painter. He was close with many artists and poets and was quietly part of a New York scene for decades. His photographs of New York rival the greats. His films, many experimental for their times, find their locus in New York most often, but also in rural Maine. His paintings of manholes and trees were the focus of a recent exhibition at his longtime gallery Tibor de Nagy.
Rudy Burckhardt gave birth to his vision of New York most directly in his films. Greater New York will highlight his film work. See them, as screenings are hard to come by. Square Times is a favorite of mine, as is Under the Brooklyn Bridge (clips of which can be seen here). He adopted New York and watched it change. He gave us his vision of the city, fluid and full of strangeness.