Q/A KJ Freeman

What is the relationship between art and real estate in New York?

I can only speak from my experience as a twenty-seven-year-old black woman who grew up in public housing in New York. The relationship between real estate and art in this city is intrinsic. It is a vivid representation of a tale of two cities. Museums and galleries resembling forts protect neigh- bourhoods whose residents hold great influence on the politics and infrastructure of the city. Plazas named after figures like the Koch brothers act as neoliberal monuments to etch a legacy into the bedrock of our culture. Nonprofits such as the Shed amass hundreds of millions of dollars to stra- tegically propel Hudson Yards as the twenty-first century’s Madison Avenue. So much is built on the death and exploitation of artists and their legacy, as art-world dilettantes scramble around the city in the hopes of falling into the good graces of some real-estate magnate who magically transforms into the “well-known” collector. The artwork itself, meanwhile, rests in the homes of the privileged, the white, and the elite.

Real-estate developers have always used art as a coconspirator to solidify their projections and amass wealth. The gallery is the proverbial coffee shop that signals to realtors a neighbourhood is “safe”, or white enough, to hike up rent and begin development. First come the artists, then comes the gallery, then comes the oligarch.

The bankruptcy of New York in the 1970s brought about a wave of radical movements – punk, hip-hop, etc. – that could afford and create culture. The city was transformed by those who passed from AIDS, while their deaths served to inflate the value of their artwork as their archives were auctioned off for the next arms dealer to whitewash their assets. The authenticity of a New York built on the disenfranchised and poor is now considered a gritty oasis, easily accessible via a Spencer’s or a Netflix subscription.

What I know is that a respectable gallery in the eyes of an art world is built on the infrastructure of a politics of respectability and white supremacy. I know that the majority of emerging to mid-career galleries in the Lower East Side have a median rent of ten thousand dollars. What I realised is that cre- ation and art are trafficked and controlled by white supremacy and into the common people. It is a marriage of inequity and colonialism.

The white cube can determine a representation of white supremacy. A twenty-thousand-dollar white cube stands stagnant in a buzzing retail dis- trict to appease, and to conform to the desires of the cultured and affluent of the world. It is white because it represents extraction, which is the basis of white supremacy. The artwork installed in such spaces acts as a metaphysical terrorist posi- tioned to amuse and deepen those who are deprived of clarity beyond the institution. African and Indigenous forms are etched into the bedrock of modernity and what is considered good taste in “the art world”. The privatisation of arts funding in the United States has directly influenced the transparency of the relationship between real estate and art.

It can be assumed in this current pandemic and anticipated recession that art itself will trans- form. New York has turned into a developer’s nightmare that nature has decided to undo. Our hopes for the next art fair, public gathering, and gala will be postponed and many of the galleries who depended on these rituals to keep their oper- ations afloat will fail. The current black art bubble which has burst, or is about to, will affect the need and justification for a brick-and-mortar gallery, and the state of black art in general.

In the 80s, gallerists like Mary Boone became the poster child of the decadence and performance of – what does it mean to be an art dealer? This grandiose performance has distorted and influ- enced how art is meant to function. Many of these large sprawling white cubes are supported by the estates of artists who died from drugs, AIDS, poverty, and capitalism. The gallery is now a showroom of decadence and disenfranchisement.

capitalism. What I know is that my existence does exist in that sphere. I am not a cura- tor but solely a charity, a sexual object, or a foun- tain of youth. It is a rigged system that reflects the most disgusting truths in our society. Art acts a portal for concrete giants to tower and amass fear

I can only speak from my experience as a twenty- seven-year-old black woman who grew up in public housing in New York. The relationship between real estate and art in this city is intrinsic. It is a vivid representation of a tale of two cities. Muse- ums and galleries resembling forts protect neigh- bourhoods whose residents hold great influence on the politics and infrastructure of the city. Plazas named after figures like the Koch brothers act as neoliberal monuments to etch a legacy into the bedrock of our culture. Nonprofits such as the Shed amass hundreds of millions of dollars to stra- tegically propel Hudson Yards as the twenty-first century’s Madison Avenue. So much is built on the death and exploitation of artists and their legacy, as art-world dilettantes scramble around the city in the hopes of falling into the good graces of some real-estate magnate who magically transforms into the “well-known” collector. The artwork itself, meanwhile, rests in the homes of the privileged, the white, and the elite.

Real-estate developers have always used art as a coconspirator to solidify their projections and amass wealth. The gallery is the proverbial coffee shop that signals to realtors a neighbourhood is “safe”, or white enough, to hike up rent and begin development. First come the artists, then comes the gallery, then comes the oligarch.

The bankruptcy of New York in the 1970s brought about a wave of radical movements – punk, hip-hop, etc. – that could afford and create culture. The city was transformed by those who passed from AIDS, while their deaths served to inflate the value of their artwork as their archives were auctioned off for the next arms dealer to whitewash their assets. The authenticity of a New York built on the disenfranchised and poor is now considered a gritty oasis, easily accessible via a Spencer’s or a Netflix subscription.

KJ FREEMAN is the founder and director of Housing, New York.