In homage to the permeability of even this country’s densest neighborhood, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s installation Avenue of the Americas occupies an undeveloped lot near the Holland Tunnel, where Canal, Varick, Grand, and Sixth Avenue intersect. The exhibition, which includes four commissioned works by Julieta Aranda, Carlos Motta and David Sanin Paz, Judi Werthein and Carla Zaccanigni, is easy to miss, enclosed as it is by a forbidding chain link fence next to the entrance to the 1 train. Located in a square that will escape the notice of most commuters traveling through the Holland Tunnel, the works address issues of Latin American’s cultural history and identity as it has evolved since the beginning of the Cold War, when Sixth Avenue was renamed the Avenue of the Americas by Fiorello H. LaGuardia in 1945 to honor “Pan-American ideals and principles.”
With the intent of honoring the “Pan-American ideas and principles” that showed solidarity between the United States and the rest of the nations on the American continents (both North and South) that shared its capitalist ideals, the street that runs from Canal to 59th Street set an urban stage for Cold War divisions. It was meant to house monuments of great Latin American leaders (as determined by the US government), but the project was never completed, leaving a two-mile gap in commemorative statues between the bronze memorial of General José Artigas, the “father of Uruguay” in Soho Square, and the Brazilian Independence Leader José Bonidacio de Andrada e Silva in Bryant Park.
Pan of course means “all,” but also “chaos,” and it’s difficult to incorporate the works in Avenue of the Americas into a string of monuments to Pan-Americanism, but they are made by artists of Latin American origin. The works here tend towards critique of the United States’ hegemonic culture of the United States of rather than fostering an air of diplomatic solidarity.
The most inconspicuous of the four works, located near the entrance to the site, is Judi Werthein’s La Caca de los Dioses (2010), which translates into English, “The Excrement of the Gods.” Mounted on a plaque, the piece consists of melted pieces of jewelry collected at pawnshops in working class neighborhoods around New York. Value is sublimated in these works, while traces of their original forms remain in the shapes of charms, pointing to the lasting sentimental value of objects that no longer can be traded on a commercial market. The text, “How to Cry” by Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar, rewritten phonetically in the dialect of an Argentinian speaker, is impressed on the surface of the metal. The work, although physically present on a podium, is ultimately a sound piece that invites speakers of all languages to speak the words of the text as a compatriot of Cortázar himself might read them.
Mounted next to Wertheimer’s piece, on a fence along the outer boundaries of the exhibition, is another work that uses sound, Carla Zaccagnini’s Alfabeto Fonético Aplicado II (2010). Created using an revised edition of NATO’s phonetic alphabet, the international code memorialized by the sequence “Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta,” Zaccagnini replaces Anglicized words with ones that have been appropriated by a number of different tongues, like “yoga” and “ninja.” The piece, written out in this new code on bright red plastic sheets, spells out the message: “They paved a Panamericana and all I can see is the Darian Gap.” Referencing the unpaved 87-km stretch of the Panamerican highway, which stretches from Alaska to Patagonia, the text plays off of the gap of comprehension that will exist between peoples speaking different languages, no matter how clear or universal the code that they use may be.
Buried in between planters housing trees and benches for visitors to the exhibition space, Julieta Aranda’s Tiger, Tiger… (The Institutionalized Revolutionelation) (2010) is named in part after Emilio Azcarraga, nicknamed “El Tigre,” the founder of Televisa, the largest media company in Latin America, and depicts a large, crumbling rendition of the Televisa logo, designed by Mexican architect Pedro Ramírez Vázquez. The piece explores the nature of Azcarraga’s power, on the right-of-center party PRI (Party of the Institutionalized Revolution), which ruled Mexico for over 70 years, and the dominance of the European ideal of beauty as projected by Televisa’s telenovelas, which continue to inform Latin American concepts of the Mexican national identity. The piece could be a relic of the buildings that stood in the exhibition space before they were demolished.
AVENUE OF THE AMERICAS IS ON VIEW THROUGH NOVEMBER 19.