The Lower East Side Gentrifies Before An Artist's Eyes

Dashed Arrow courtesy PPOW gallery

Many of us currently on the Lower East Side face a moral quandary: can we hate the condos and sip the bone broth? While we debate the difference between good neighbor and culture leech, the era before "The East Village" seems almost like a myth, a black and white slideshow that quickens our cursors and increases our broker fees. Anton van Dalen has used his perch on Avenue A and 10th Street to make art that documents the changes he's seen, and his first solo exhibition in eight years provides essential context through unique iconography that feels both timeless and steeped in his home of more than 40 years.

At the PPOW gallery in Chelsea last night, van Dalen assembled a group of miniature drawings and cut-outs that he used as pictograms of sorts to give an oral history of his life's work.

(courtesy PPOW gallery)

After moving from Holland to become the first non-Jewish tenant in his Rivington Street building in the late '60s, the artist relocated his family to Avenue A. Blight and drugs eventually overran the neighborhood, and van Dalen recalled being stunned at the sight of burning cars, those symbols of individuality and prosperity destroyed in fits of rage and hopelessness.

"It was like a war," van Dalen said of the late '70s and early '80s, noting that while he moved to New York believing that his art should be made without a sense of place or time, he felt it was his "duty" to document what was happening; phallic symbols of a fascist police state crush the homeless and the rent-burdened alike.

(courtesy PPOW gallery)

Automobiles would become a frequent symbol in van Dalen's work (see his ostentatious limousine with matching chauffeur that he said would appear, as if by magic, outside a decrepit LES gallery). He also drew a lot of dogs. They can feel innocent and social, but also menacing and animalistic, protection for their masters who have turned inward from a cold, dangerous neighborhood.

Van Dalen's new works still contain the familiar symbols from his past next to wry reminders of the sterile present. The Lower East Side's proud tradition of nonconformity mutates into excessive pizza consumption; teacup poodles mimic their aloof owners; Mr. Softee smokes a cigarette and checks his cell phone.

(courtesy PPOW gallery)

"For your generation, cellphones are like cars," van Dalen said, nodding towards a row of young people.

The flock of white pigeons van Dalen keeps on his roof also figure prominently into his art. You can see what they are up to anywhere in the world; there is a live-feed streaming from inside the coop.

(courtesy PPOW gallery)

Anton van Dalen, New Works, is at PPOW until March 14. He'll also have some work at ADAA The Art Show.

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