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Introducing “New York Close Up”

New York Close Up is Art21’s new online documentary series profiling the lives and works of New York-based artists in the first phase of their career. New York Close Up is also an experiment.

As a production assistant, researcher (and fellow artist), I’ve been with this project since its inception—on shoots, in the edit room, working with artists and galleries. A question has dominated the filmmaking process: How does one make a compelling film that represents the complexity of an artist’s creative process? The aim has been to collaborate with each artist to imagine new ways of telling stories about what it’s like to live, work, and make art in New York City.

The first 10 videos, to be released starting June 13th, introduce the initial New York Close Up crop of artists: Lucas Blalock, Martha Colburn, Keltie Ferris, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Tommy Hartung, Rashid Johnson, Kalup Linzy, Shana Moulton, Mariah Robertson, and Mika Tajima.

Curator Wesley Miller, artist Mika Tajima, and cinematographer Jarred Alterman film contortionist Tony Mitchell performance during an exhibition at Elizabeth Dee Gallery. Chelsea, Manhattan, 01.29.11. Production still from the series "New York Close Up." © Art21, Inc. 2011.

We came into the project familiar with each artist’s work. However, how they work is rather mysterious. Yes, there’s the “studio”—but there’s also exhibitions, friends’ houses, conversations, performances, and the city itself. Who’s to say where the “art happens?”

So we filmed. A lot. It was a little intimidating at first. Hundreds of hours of footage. A growing number of filming opportunities we couldn’t pass up. But as we got to know the artists, stories would emerge. Collaborations happened. Pieces of everyday life suddenly began to crystallize into the elusive “creative process”—and into films.

Artist Mariah Robertson hand-processing color photographs in her darkroom. Greenpoint, Brooklyn, 12.13.10. Production still from the series "New York Close Up." © Art21, Inc. 2011.

Each video looks at the creative process from a different angle: the psychology of moving art from the studio to an exhibition space; personal history and its effect on one’s art; how to document a practice when an artist’s work and personal life blur. They’re short bytes—5 to 9 minutes—of innovative film-making and a truly unique view of some of the most interesting artists working in New York City today.

Artist LaToya Ruby Frazier during the performance "If Everybody's Work Is Equally Important" (2010) outside Levi’s Photo Workshop. SoHo, Manhattan, 12.08.10. Production still from the series "New York Close Up." © Art21, Inc. 2011.

And these 10 videos are only the beginning. We’ll be making more films on these artists, and adding new ones, in the coming months. That’s one of the most exciting parts of the New York Close Up project: the filmmaker/artist collaboration has room to evolve.

At the core of Art21 is the belief that contemporary art can be accessible, open, and revelatory. New York Close Up not only allows artists to speak, but also to have a hand in the way their process—and their world—is offered up to the viewer.

Artist Shana Moulton and singer Daisy Press performing in the opera "Whispering Pines 10" (2011) at the New Museum. The Bowery, Manhattan, 01.08.11. Production still from the series "New York Close Up." © Art21, Inc. 2011.

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