Most art enthusiasts who venture to New York City’s Meatpacking District have their sights set on the Whitney Museum, which boasts a staggering collection of 20th-century and contemporary American art. But last week, as my sister and I wandered the side streets of the industrial neighborhood, we had another destination in mind.
A few days earlier, we had come across an article online announcing that a freelance British textile artist named Lucy Sparrow had opened a pop-up corner store only a block away from the Whitney and was selling hand-sewn grocery items made entirely of felt. (For more details on the temporary “felt bodega”, check out the following article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/lucy-sparrow-opens-an-all-felt-bodega-in-nyc-8-till-late_us_594120b8e4b0d99b4c921001).
Inspired by the utter randomness and originality of Sparrow’s project, we were determined to check it out in person. It took some time for us to locate the gallery-convenience-store hybrid, but we knew we had found it when we spotted a painted sign reading “8 ‘till Late” (a play on 7-Eleven) on the roof of a modest brick-and-mortar minimart.
When we stepped inside, I found myself surrounded by tailor-made treats, from JIF peanut butter and Lucky Charms to graham crackers and frozen pizza – all of which, of course, were inedible. The little room featured a pretend Coca-Cola refrigerator, a meat counter, a freezer, a hot dog cart, and even a magazine rack. Customers everywhere were pulling pillow-like products off the shelves and lining up to purchase them at a cash register. The whole scene was surreal – I had never imagined that the buying and selling of art could so closely resemble the everyday transactions that take place in a convenience store.
On the one hand, I enjoyed seeking out the unique charms of each hand-stitched item in the store as I roamed the aisles. On the other hand, I thought, maybe this was the new Pop Art – the ultimate ode to Warhol’s aesthetic craze for the mass production of commodities. (A grid of cushiony Ritz cracker boxes at the back of the room seemed explicitly Warholian to me, at least in a visual sense.) But beyond the visual echoes of the Pop Art movement, the fact that anyone could wander into the shop to catch a glimpse of (and even purchase) Sparrow’s work pointed to a dramatically democratic conception of art as a public and accessible enterprise. I was happy that I had the chance to be a witness and participant in Sparrow’s inclusive, hyper-original artistic endeavor.
My sister and I were slow to leave the store, knowing that this was an experience we could never replicate. (In fact, I read earlier today that the artist has already closed down “8 ‘till Late”, having sold all of her creations.) Bizarre and short-lived, like a double rainbow or a traveling circus, the pop-up shop vanished almost as quickly as it had appeared. Luckily, if my memories of that strange yet extraordinary space ever begin to fade, I will always have a small, cotton-stuffed imitation of a Butterfinger bar as a reminder.