Goodbye Mary, Hello Kitty

Damien Hirst’s Virgin Mary in Lever House gardens/fountain © 2008 bubblegumvision

Even for New York City, its unusual when you walk past the Lever House and find that the object on the pedestal of last night’s exhibit has been replaced.

there’s a new kitty in town © 2008 bubblegumvision

I immediately recognized this overnight revision as a deja vu decision, a mashup rebirthing of Tom Sachs ‘1994 Barney’s storefront window. Way back then, Christmas shopping season, ancient years ago, “Hello Kitty,” dressed up in Nike and Chanel to replace the Virgin Mary in the Nativity Scene. That year also began public art oppression in New York City under the arm of Mayor Giuliani.

The rich social impactual context of Tom Sachs’ exhibit at Lever House, “The Bronze Collection”, requires recollection.

Recall that the New York City that embraced the Barney’s storefront in 1994 held back public art and first amendment expression that year and for that matter, the next eight years. The year 1994 marked the first of the arrests of over 700 street artists over a four year period. To date not one of these arrests has ever gone to trial.

Later in 1999 Mayor Giuliani took on Chris Oli’s “Vrigin Mary” and Damien Hurst’s “This Little Piggy Went to Market…” at the Brooklyn Museum. A federal court scolded Mr. Giuliani, you may not take away first amendment rights from the Brooklyn Museum; the case Giuliani v. Brooklyn Museum was settled out of court.

In 2001 the Mayor pursued the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibit of a nude “Last Supper.” He threatened to raise issue of ‘decency rights’ through the Supreme Court.

We, the people of New York City, are in the midst of a most egregious racial court decision that so splits the spirit of freedom and truth in the City, right across its geographic half. We feel the brunt of the City’s segregation on the subway and in the streets. The storm has not passed. Mr. Giuliani’s policies remain unabated after his terms’ end; where there was fairness, darkness now thrives.
Miffy weeps Gently © 2008 bubblegumvision

So it is on top of this rich social context, as if overnight, Tom Sachs’ 21-foot “Crying Kitty” replaced Damien Hirst’s “Virgin Mary” on her pedestal in the Fountain at Lever House. Another Crying companion, “Crying Miffy,” joins “Hello Kitty” in Tom Sachs’ “Bronze Collection.”

The ‘follow behind of Damien Hirst’ is part of the installation. It is no secret. W” Editors received opening invitations that included sculptural wind-ups of Hello Kitty with fake personalizations.

Mr. Sachs is noted for his cultural commentary, his conflicted commercialism. The NY Times wrote that “Hello Kitty” might be commiserating with Park Avenue’s resident bankers’ current financial problems.

I do not believe this interpretation. “Hello Kitty” is an art form, if she cries, she cries for nothing. Ironically, while nothing embraces the City that never sleeps, something embraces the banker that weeps.

The exhibit runs May 8 – September 6 then off to Aspen with October in Paris.

See also “Global Brand with Nine Lives.” Indianapolis Museum of Art.

p.s. don’t forget to go inside the Lever House for more of the exhibit, it is amazing.


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