Rizzoli

In January, treatment Rizzoli Books announced that it would be closing its store on West 57th Street. By the time April rolled around the closure felt sudden. On April 11th, 2014, the final day, the store was packed with people, significantly busier and louder than usual. It was filled with curiosity seekers and discount scavengers looking for a bargain, while long-time customers and well-wishers meandered through the space one last time. The building that has housed Rizzoli Books for the last twenty-nine years is one of four adjacent buildings on W. 57th Street that will be demolished for a new development by Le Frak and Vornado Management. Mid-town high-rise construction is booming and the location is prime mid-town real estate. The new building will be an ultra tall luxury condo with views of Central Park. Its new occupants, the global super-rich, will likely be using their new homes as pied-de-terres.

Rizzoli Books featured three floors of books on art, architecture, design, fashion, and music. There was also an impressive selection of foreign language books and children’s books on the top floor. The draw of a 40% off sale accounted for the large crowd that circled the shelves and tables like vultures, browsing furiously. The discount was very appealing because many of Rizzoli’s books were expensive coffee table catalogs and artist monographs. But despite the chaos of a sale, there was also an atmosphere of sadness throughout the store. Many of Rizzoli’s employees were already gone and the remaining few were facing an uncertain future. And yet they busied themselves with helping customers, answering questions, and shelving books. Some had already started packing the remaining inventory while customers were still digging through the books.

A long-time worker briefly gave a customer a rundown about the search for a new space and then shared a moment about what gets lost when old is replaced by new. “Take it all in for one last time” she said as she trudged off with a stack of books. All the conversations in the store were tinged with this mix of nostalgia and melancholy—an end of an era. A lot of people were buying books, but one can only suspect it was both a mixture of pity and the 40% discount. Others were furtively taking photos of the architecture.

Rizzoli’s owners are closing down their brick and mortar location, however they are not leaving the publishing industry. As Samuel Cooper points out there is a large gap between the book store and its parent company. Rumors are that there is a team looking for a new space further downtown, supposedly in Flatiron. But one would realistically expect a liquidation of stock online and a much lighter physical presence moving forward. With retail rents what they are, reopening a bookstore of this type is a big task even with resources. Relocating a bookstore can sometimes result in its slow death. It made me think of Cody’s and Black Oak Books in Berkeley.

However, Rizzoli Books has faced this situation before, arriving on 57th Street only after losing the lease on an even older and grander building on Fifth Avenue. At least the last time the building facade was saved. When the news of the eviction became public, preservationists and friends of the bookstore made a last-ditch effort to save the store. They gathered 16,000 signatures in an online petition and staged a rally in front of the bookstore, but the landmarks commission was uninterested. This location was too prime and too many machines were already in motion for its demolition.

Rizzoli Books was one of the last grand bookstores in New York. Its interior contained multiple chandeliers and an elaborate molded plaster ceiling dating back to the turn of the century. Dark wood shelves lined the walls and gold painted ornaments could be found in corners and above many of the shelves. The largest of the chandeliers floated down above the entryway and was wrapped by a balcony that created a mezzanine that overlooked the entryway. Rizzoli had been remodeled in 1985 with changes the layout of the shelving, brightening up the entryway, and restoring some of the ceiling work. Ironically, this remodel removed the historic significance of the building’s interior. This was a claim made by the Landmarks Commission when people were fighting to protect the building. How can an interior be protected without protecting the whole building?

Rizzoli is of course not the first nor the last of great bookstores chased out of Manhattan by the pressure of real estate. Shakespeare and Company on Broadway and St. Marks Books are both slated for moves or closures very soon. Bookstore closings are one of those significant moments, an indicator that something profound has shifted. If and when Rizzoli reopens at a new location, a part of New York is already gone. There is something that feels strange about lamenting a fancy bookstore and its unattainable goods, but like all bookstores there is a community surrounding it and what is lost is more than just a place to buy books.

Rizolli Interior (photo courtesy of Rizolli's website)

Rizolli Interior (photo courtesy of Rizolli’s website)


5

Pop-up shows are abundant these days and small venues everywhere use their extra spaces to provide artists with a place to show work. These shows usually last only a few days but sometimes there are nice surprises to be found. Resonant City happened to come across Crystal Gregory’s weekend-long installation last month in Brooklyn at Treasure Island Studios. Her installation, order The Spaces Between, advice was an interesting display of materials and spatial sensitivities. She works with materials in an exacting way, treatment moving between fibers, concrete, glass, and metal in ways that directly engage with their surroundings to create a dialogue between object, material, and the space itself.

For artists, having the space to display work allows for a greater understanding of the work’s qualities that would otherwise be impossible to grasp. With sculpture and installation work, access to space is doubly important. Space also gives the artist the ability to experiment and to discover the right relationships and arrangements between objects. As Gregory’s work directly addresses a zone of convergence between objects and their surroundings, she was able to use this temporary space effectively.

The assembled works are clustered into three areas of the small room with just enough space to move around the objects. Prominently displayed in the middle of the room are six cast concrete rings hanging from orange twine in an intricate, knotted pattern; some are directly suspended, while others lie on the floor. Alluding to this entanglement, the piece is titled How Many of Those Yoked Together Have ever Seen Oxen? (a line from the Gertrude Stein’s novel, Ida).

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Crystal Gregory, “How Many of Those Yoked Together Have ever Seen Oxen?”

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Crystal Gregory, “The Spaces Between” (installation view)

In one corner of the room is a textured grey concrete casting of the corner itself, floated on a pile of handmade 1 inch glass cubes with a background of two blue paintings. Above this is an architectonic structure, The Presence of Absence, composed of welded flat steel strips buffed to a dull grey; it is approximately three feet long and forms a lattice of connectivity between two walls. It also casts a faint shadow on the white wall behind it adding an illusory sense of depth to that corner.

Cascading from the room’s opposite corner is a green textile with an eye-catching, bright blue stripe. The top edge is tightly woven while it gets progressively more frayed and then completely unravels as it trails along the ground. Next to this wall piece is a casted assemblage (part of her Conglomerate series) based on floor molding. This object is formed from different construction materials: concrete, cement, and asphalt. Each material appears in different patches and striations expressing its unique granularities and other differing properties. A square metal rod is embedded into this cast along one of its edges and embedded into another edge is a green scrap that looks leftover from the adjacent weaving.

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Crystal Gregory, “The Spaces Between” (installation view)

There are obvious spatial implications to the arrangement of the works; each contains reference to its neighboring pieces that carries viewers around the room. Color choice is important and subtle here. The bright blues, greens, and oranges contrast with the heavy grays of the concrete, the black painted floors, and the white walls of the room. Some of the objects themselves directly are mimetic, taking forms from the room such as the corner or floor mold casting. Gregory’s installation not only complicates the material and spatial relationships of her objects but also challenges the perception of their use. She treats construction materials as textiles, weaving and folding them into one another to create these aggregate assemblages—hybrid objects that form structural systems that defy expected uses and provide a challenge to a dichotomy of hard and soft materials. They also have an indeterminate yet tactile quality to them; the aggregation of materials simultaneously appears sharp, soft, menacing or inviting. In many of these assemblages the heavier objects are supported by the lighter, more fragile ones. This complex layering of materials, textures, and space, and the way Gregory hybridizes the hand-made and found, crafted and cast and her meticulous attention to material choice makes space for provocative encounters.

Crystal Gregory, "The Presence of Absence" (detail)

Crystal Gregory, “The Presence of Absence” (detail)

Resonant City caught up with the artist after seeing the installation and she was asked a few questions, which she answers below

RC: One of the things that we noticed in your work is the interplay between materials. How would you describe the relationships between the materials you choose to work with?

CG: The materials I use are opposites of each other in many respects; formally, their use function, their histories, and processes. I pair materials with their opposite in a gesture to exploit or expose the societal connotation or stereotypes our culture has buried within them. I do this in an effort to push through these stereotypes or to understand them for what they are. Concrete is considered strong and essential, while textiles are often soft, decorative, and additive. I take these common associations and invert them, for example, using lace to support the weight of concrete tube, or building out a Torchon lace pattern in steel to understand the connections between support structure and structures found in the decorative, questioning what is frivolous and what is necessity.

RC: What is your definition of space and what does site play in your work?

CG: I have a background as a weaver, and it is through cloth construction that I understand structure systems in architecture. I have dedicated many years to the study of lace construction. I find the negative space this material contains more important and substantial than the pattern, the thread, or its history. The material serves as a filter or a barrier while eroticizing the other side, calling more attention to the thing it is concealing than were there nothing there at all. It is through this lens that I think about space and architecture. It is not the walls, the boundaries, or the container itself but the presence of the absence, the void or the negative space. The potential energy or the phenomenology that brings the silence or emotion that I am studying.

RC: We noticed that there are many different references in this work, what kinds of research have you been doing that has led up to this installation?

CG: I see my practice as research. I think through ideas by making objects and installations, always asking more questions and never fully committing to an answer or a single truth. This installation has been an accumulation of many years of study. I recently finished my MFA in Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and directly after graduating I took an artist ­in­ residence position at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam. I see The Space Between as my first attempt in unpacking and reconnecting ideas around phenomenological studies of space and place as it relates to architecture and textile. In Chicago I was doing research concerning our cognitive recognition of pattern and how ideas of the decorative are read within culture. Within this study are ideas of utopic architecture and the poetics of Euclidean geometry. In Amsterdam I was fortunate to study closely with the master lace maker Lia Baumeister ­Jonker who taught me many techniques and oral histories. There I was also was doing a series of interviews with people who utilize objects of translucency as barrier including glass makers and sex workers in Amsterdam’s Red Light District. I don’t expect every person to see all of the research that goes into this work, that is never my goal, but I see the connections between all of these worlds of research and the product. It is ever growing and ever changing.

*All images courtesy of the artist*
More information can be found on her website