by Scott Lachut
In its current state, Times Square's clash between fading authenticity and idealized homogeneity make it the perfect setting for artist Chris Rubino's "limited tourist attraction" titled â€œThe Center of Something," showing now through 15 June 2008 at the Chashama Gallery. Circa 1990, Times Square was a den of iniquity and vice, boasting a porn shop on every corner and a "squeegee man" at every red light. Fast forward to today (post-Giuliani) and it's hardly recognizable from its former self. Radically transformed into a vast corporate landscape, it now sells fantasies of a different sort to the throngs of tourists flocking to see the flashy advertisements stretching to the sky.
Conceived as a twist on the neighborhood's ubiquitous souvenir shops, the exhibit lends a critical eye to the neatly packaged version of NYC displayed on countless t-shirts, postcards and disposable trinkets, while simultaneously paying respect to a vanishing New York that has seemingly lost touch with itself. By re-imagining memorable slogans and icons from the perspective of a resident, Rubino sets out to reclaim the city as a place to live, work and drink.
Highlights of the show include hand-painted maps depicting Rubino's vision of Manhattan divided up by its eleven biggest landowners. If you're too poor to afford your own stake, you can always appease yourself by purchasing actual samplings of Central Park, the East River and Coney Island beach, among others. Not finding what you're looking for? The sale of â€œdo-it-yourself" time capsules encourages visitors to preserve their own slices of New York life to be enjoyed by ensuing generations. Add in unsigned â€œknock-offs" of prints already in the show and Rubino has created a microcosm of the city for sale all in one store.
“The Center of Something” raises questions about the future of New York City with an eye toward the past, asking the audience to consider the fundamental differences between the place where some people spend their entire lives and so many more just come to visit — disparate worlds existing in the same town that are each appealing in their own way. Rubino sums up these feelings best with a line from one of his shirts, â€œYou're Not As Beautiful As You Used To Be, But I Still Love You," reminding us that despite it all, there's no place else we''d rather be.