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LA and NY artists tackle the inequity of real estate, with mixed results


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The Guardian’s Alex Rayner reports on two recent art projects in LA and NY that seek to expose how the astronomical real estate prices in these cities shape the urban environment, especially for the poor. One is artist Rosten Woo’s plan to construct a golf course on LA’s Skid Row that will tell the hidden history of LA real estate as players move from hole to hole. The other is Month2Month, a series of discussions and events organized by Jennifer Dalton and William Powhida in NY, which is “a response to the way contemporary artists are sometimes employed, unwittingly, as tools of the real estate industry,” writes The Guardian. While these projects are laudable, it’s hard not to feel that we’ve already thoroughly discussed art’s complicity in gentrification. After countless talks and panels and essays on the topic, we all know how things stand. So maybe it’s high time for artists to stop being complicit, in concrete ways that require real risks. For example, although Rosten Woo’s Skid Row project, which is funded by a grant from the Mike Kelly Foundation, will surely advance his career, perhaps he should abandon it, knowing that art on Skid Row will only make the area more attractive to developers, hastening the displacement of its poor and homeless population.

Here’s an excerpt from the Guardian article:

Perhaps, in an age when protest marches and protest songs may not be as effective as they once were, artists such as Woo, Powhida and Dalton are finding new ways to approach social problems.

“I don’t think we’re reinventing any great model, but we’re not standing on a corner and shouting about something,” says Powhida. “Contemporary art is about ambiguity and open-endedness. If you present a talk as art, people might be a bit more willing to listen.”

Just where that conversation will go is unclear. Artists like Woo, Dalton and Powhida might be turning to housing because, in a nation where, despite growing inequalities, it is still moderately unacceptable to discuss wealth redistribution, real estate is an easy way to get less palatable and less tangible subjects on the table.

“You don’t see the people making your shirt or picking your food,” says Woo, “but you can see inequality really clearly when your neighbours change, or you yourself having to leave your apartment. It’s not the worst aspect of our particular moment in capitalism, but it is the most visible. People want to talk about it, but it’s not where I think the conversation should end. I think it does suggest it’s a way into a much larger phenomenon.”

Image of LA’s Skid Row via the Guardian.