Images by Kristen Spielkamp
Anyone versed in the contemporary history of New York knows how the city’s SoHo neighborhood went from being a post-industrial wasteland in the 1970s, to an insalubrious artist haunt by the end of that same decade, to being the molten core of the exploding art market in the go-go ’80s (Basquiat, Schnabel, Keith Haring). As tends to happen, trendy nightlife and restaurants followed, before skyrocketing rents sent the art world racing northwest to Chelsea, with the SoHo galleries then replaced by expensive hotels and Prada and Yamamoto flagships and the like.
In recent years, for those who have found the contrived hipstermania of Billyburg and Bushwick to be kind of a drag, SoHo has held something of a charming nostalgia of coolness. The 19th Century Greek Revival / cast iron architecture and cobblestone streets meant it was still Gotham’s most aesthetically captivating neighborhood. But lunch at Balthazar was also still good for a sublime duck confit and an Instagram worthy celeb spotting; while late night goings on at Lucky Strike (a recent victim of the pandemic after 31 years – ugh) still seemed more interesting than anything happening across the river on Bedford Street. A steady stream of a-list Euro and Asian fashion pop-ups has made it an enduring style destination.
As stated in Part I of this ongoing series, we’ve been watching NYC re-open from the matter-of-factly-cool Arlo SoHo hotel, which has also been finding its feet again following the austerity of the lockdown. Naturally, one of our first trips out was to get a glimpse of the aftermath of the recent looting spree in SoHo that was a shameful, and not at all related sideshow to the peaceful protests in the wake of the tragic death of George Floyd.
Despite the bright sunshine of a recent Sunday afternoon there was a certain solemnity about it all, with the boarded up storefronts of Louis Vuitton, Issey Miyake, Canada Goose, etc, dominating the scene.
“We were scared to death,” recalls Arlo General Manager Bassim Ouachani of the SoHo rioting. “But we did not get hit thank god.”
Nevertheless, and perhaps not all too surprisingly, what had popped up since the chaos was an exhibition’s worth of spontaneous (for lack of a better term) street art, pretty much all of it fiercely political in tone—and, well, much of it quite good and affective. It reminded us of a time when art really did get directly involved, when it was an indispensable part of the revolution that never seemed to stop taking place.
“I’ve been a New Yorker for more than 20 years,” says Ouachani. “And it’s so interesting about the city—we always try to make something out of [tragedy].”
So while NYC museums remain shuttered, one can actually check in to the Arlo SoHo, and make a day of the “street life,” visiting nearby (and the hotel’s own Harold’s) restaurants for take away food and cocktails, and touring what is surely one of the most relevant, nay poignant art shows of 2020—which we captured here in part.