This is a quick review and synopsis of the first iteration of ON CANAL, trendy art programming in New York City. This is a heavily branded art project where storefronts on Canal Street are occupied with rotating installations. Wallplay (the organizer) and Vibes (the curator)are the two key players in this endeavor. Their goal in collaborating is to make Canal Street, in NYC, “a new cultural hub” by filling its vacant lots with art installs for one year by renting 20 empty storefronts.

Wallplay is a member of NEW INC, the world’s first museum-led incubator.
was founded by the New Museum in 2014 and is “the first museum-led cultural incubator dedicated to supporting innovation, collaboration, and entrepreneurship across art, design, and technology.” Wallplay’s goal is to provide opportunities for brands to empower, uplift and innovate through partnerships in order to further culture. The New Museum is one of my favorite museums in the city but I have experience in both the nonprofit sector and the fine art world and I needed to how much of this endeavor was for motivated by social justice and how much by clickbait. Like I mentioned in the introduction, this is simply a synopsis of my experience as an educated curious individual, and not a witch-hunt.

The ON CANAL website reads that “since 2013, Canal has become infamous for its ghost-town appearance, as the property owners phased out illegal businesses. Long known for its mercantile quirks, over 3,000 pedestrians every hour, and a rich history of serving the arts community & innovators of New York City, Canal Street remains one of the most highly trafficked thoroughfares in the five boroughs”. They continue that ON CANAL is a “home for an emerging form of commerce, where experiences are the new currency”. Experiences are the new currency? This tone-deaf privileged narrative is not helping the case that an art scene can enrich a neighborhood and help people. I’m a little confused if ON CANAL believes that Chinatown’s history was built from illegal businesses or “incredibly rich retail”. As someone who has lived on Canal Street, I find that it’s more of a mix of bakeries, Chase Banks, and stores that only sell face masks.

DiMoDa’s “New Talismans”

The installations themselves were free to enter and pretty varied in terms of type and depth of content as well as apparent skill level. All of them seemingly served ON CANAL’s purpose of neighborhood revitalization because I was far from the only gallery visitor that evening. I was not able to see all of the storefronts because the galleries close at 7 p.m. (except on Thursdays when they close at 9 p.m. and Sundays when they are not open at all). One motif I took issue with was blatant self-promotion through social media. Many of these works included the artists Instagram handle. Works with extremely serious themes like conflict in the Middle East were spoiled by seemingly random @’s. I think the handles and websites are better left with the descriptions on the walls.

In my opinion, DiMoDa’s “3.0”, Frankey’s “Premier New York”, and Adrian Yu’s “Yellow” were the frontrunners.

Getting intimate and unbuttoned with Frankey’s “Premier New York”

DiMoDa’s, the Digital Museum of Digital Art, show “3.0” featured two projects, New Talismans and MND/BDY. New Talismans was a series of geometric works with light. The MND/BDY VR experience was the most enjoyable part of my time in the galleries. I was absolutely thrilled to be in this lush field, created by Vicki Dang I believe, tip toeing around giant lovely girls. Making virtual reality inclusive, easily accessible and free, like DiMoDa, is a step in the right direction for the NYC art world. View this at 325 Canal Street.

Frankey’s “Premier New York” is great because you can have fun here without flexing an art background. Unfortunately, more than a few of the pieces were out of order during my visit. I think the decrepit Canal Street that ON CANAL aims to refurbish is one with a history of outsider art, including street art and graffiti. Frankey’s work alludes to this, showing a similarly rebellious spirit. I didn’t mind Frankey trying to force his social media down the throats of his audience because it matched the provocative and larger-than-life themes in his work. I especially recommend you check out his Takashi-Murakami-style lap-dance ride (photo above).

Offline Projects and Adrian Yu’s “Yellow” was among my top picks as well. Seeing this work on Instagram was what originally teased me into visiting the galleries. This installation is a mess of a room filled with dancing inflatable carwash characters, flags, and banners. It is a very exciting room to walk through. According to Yu, the work “highlights how years of ethnic siloing of eastern kitsch culture in Chinatowns around the US has created this Instagram fodder you probably thought YELLOW was at first glance”. Beautifully ironic.

Adrian Yu’s “Yellow”

We live in a city where East of Williamsburg is becoming Little Midwest and ON CANAL aims to help Chinatown turn into SONM (South of New Museum). Is there a possibility that showcasing fine art in 20 storefronts do anything but make the area trendier, let alone revitalize it? Will this bring more business to the lighting and plastics stores that remain on the block? Or will the takeover of art — one of the most inaccessible aspects of our culture — drive up the rent in the area and push out the locals until it mirrors Chelsea, the neighborhood that art turned into a ghost town.

I’m fatigued from being inundated by messaging from brands and influencers who say their goal is to help others and continue to create self-serving content .My thoughts? If you really care about the future of this neighborhood, ask them how they need help instead of assuming. Or focus on projects that offer to actually enact change like Luke Namer’s “re-wilding” environmental programming.

These pop-ups are on view through September 1st.

Tuesday — Saturday 12–7 p.m. and Thursday 12–9 p.m.

All opinions expressed here are my own.

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