Don’t Move to New York

04/24/2013 4:00 AM |

“Don’t move to New York,” I told an audience of young students at the University of Georgia last week. To my surprise, most of the students were already familiar with my thoughts on the matter—I’d forgotten about a conversation I’d had with local artist and MFA graduate Layet Johnson, who’d called to ask me if he should move to New York. That conversation became part of an installation in a hotel show. It’s a small town, so by the time I’d arrived, the entire student body had listened to the piece.

Still, the topic came up again and again during my stay, and part of it was my own doing. I’m sad that New York, the city I’ve lived in for more than 10 years, is now barely hospitable to those making the kind of art I love. It’s my job, though I don’t like it, to tell young artists thinking of moving that without connections, their job prospects are dim. The ugly reality is the cost of living is prohibitively expensive in New York.

Typical studio rent in Bushwick runs at $600 for 250 square feet, according to Stephanie Diamond’s Listings Project, a real-estate email service for artists. That’s more than $2 per square foot. Sunset Park is more affordable, but as I reported in the last issue, landlords are raising rents there by as much as 50 percent.

Given these numbers, most artists will need to secure a middle-income job to maintain an apartment and studio, which creates a catch-22: artists have to work all the time to pay for their studios and thus have a hard time ever using them. But they may be the lucky ones. I frequently hear about graduates who have been unable to turn their unpaid internships into paying positions. Only a few years ago such a fate was reserved for the particularly unskilled.

It’s bad out there for emerging artists and students know it. When I visited Baltimore last week, I heard from multiple sources that many MICA graduates are no longer moving to New York; instead, they’re finding cheap studio space in Baltimore and staying put. Students in Athens talked about moving after graduation, too. Although they were less likely to move to New York because of the distance, they did mention the appeal of larger communities like those in Philadelphia and Atlanta.

I can’t say I blame them. Spending a few months in New York to build connections and get studio visits isn’t a bad idea, but it’s possible to keep up with most art virtually, and art here has becoming increasingly lifeless anyway. The Lower East Side has become particularly stale lately; in the past four months, I’ve seen only two solo exhibitions that I thought were exceptional—Sara Ludy at Klaus Von Nichtssagend and Jaimie Warren at The Hole. Neither of those artists lives in New York.

It’s unlikely that there’s a single cause for this, but the city’s rising costs and diminishing benefits are certainly part of it. Given the number of emerging and mid-level dealers, curators, critics and artists in this city who work constantly and are just scraping by, we may be starting to see its toll.

21 Comment

  • I think you mean roughly $28.80 per square foot…$2 per square foot is an uhmazing deal….

  • yeah, its really hard to make it in nyc with all those tears in your eyes. wah wah– suck it up, babies.. no one said it would be easy.

  • I am an artist who spends maybe 3/4 working time in a small studio in NYC and shows nationally and internationally, and I would claim that probably about 95% of my art practice is self-funded, i.e. not from patrons, collectors or grants. Most people that know me think I am doing really well and that I make a living off of my work, but when I tell them that I support my work through money I make in other fields, there is often disbelief or even suspicion that I am faking modesty or something. I do what I do as an artist because it is the only thing I really care about, even if I have to do other work I don’t want in order to keep doing it.

    In my studio building, during normal weekday work hours, the building is empty of artists. They come mostly in during the weekend as they are busy with their day jobs throughout the week. What is interesting is that many of these artists have the larger, more expensive spaces in the building which means they are willing to pay high prices to be in their studios for a few days out of the week. I often wonder if many of them will ever break the surface at such a pace. Kind of gives new meaning to the idea of “Sunday painter.”

  • Interesting you say this with the fact that NYC has been gaining population overall.You shouldn’t put too much on what you hear from MICA grad’s, unless they are Hoffberger painting students. MICA, once a backwater school with all eyes on NYC, has recently had a makeover with an aggressive fund raising administration aiming the curriculum toward anime, manga, CGI and gaming graphics. The money is there. Up to now students were pie eyed for Pixar. So for MICA students not perceiving NYC as mecca hardly surprises.
    So only the wealthy can afford to be artists, thus subtracting the bite of class alienation , let’s say, that can be seen in a Basquiat. There are some other reasons to not go to nyc, as you allude to. The artists coming to nyc all have a degree with the same homogenized post-modernist agenda, and they formulaically follow. Abstractions drone on, conceptual Pop caricatures leer back their smug irony, Casualist mish mashes seem like sterile university exercises, all safely defanged in some art historical niche. Looking at the big picture, the decline of an art center is not unusual, Athens, Rome, Paris. And, there is denial. Recently Art News printed a small account of a show in Rome that intends to say painting or art in NYC is not dead. The problem is they show an example of Jeff Koons antiquity painting as an example of the viability of the tradition, when in fact, his ‘paintings’ are the very problem, more at how NYC art has become the 21st Century version of L’Ecole des Beaux Artes. They are totally outsourced, poorly designed, anally crafted collages that say nothing about painting since there is no reason for them to be done in paint. One could just as well send the photoshop image to a large inkjet/laser printer and get the same image. No difference. So, for me, it’s not just the cost of living, it’s the tradition that’s closed out. As Paris needed a Monet, so does NYC. Lastly, for what it’s worth, I hear the money is leaving for London, closer to oil and gold.

  • I am actually moving out of New York. Looking for studios in Bogota. Come on, people, move here with me and we’ll try to make this city the next Berlin:)

  • Again? This is at least a 15 year old article. I have read dozens like it. You can do better L.

  • Bogota is ok for a couple of days, but the pollution is horrible, the city smells like gasoline. Go to Cartagena.

  • This article is crap. ANTIQUATED!!!

  • You don’t move here for the deals, you move here for the people. Move to New York. We’re all still here.

  • No, it’s not a 15 year old article. You use to be able to find deals on raw space in Manhattan in a commercially zoned building for 150-200$ a month. Heat was shut off on the weekends, but hey. You could share a loft in Soho with 5 or 6 people for 200 or so a month, plus utilities. I found a rent controlled deal in EV for 400$ a month. What this article is saying is now such deals no longer exist but just a room sharing a kitchen in say a Chinatown is 600 a month, and that’s rare. But wages at menial food service jobs have not risen, creating the squeeze. So people are living in New Jersey like Hoboken or moving to places off the NJ RR like the Oranges or Maplewood. Harlem is getting arty. But, like the article says with even LES getting stale or mundane, and Williamsburg/Bushwick not much different, and the fact like for a painter you can get keep up virtually via gallery web sites, the NEED to be in nyc isn’t quite there for artists the way it was 20 years ago. So, it’s not only don’t come to nyc if you are a painter, it’s more like you don’t need to live there, just visit for a prolong stay periodically. And the art world becoming no different than a retail Tiffany’s just adds to the sour taste.

  • paddy is a terrible writer lacking flight, and it’s because of people like her that the art world is going bankrupt of intellect and challenge but not money. She is all for those abstract smears on sheets going. Give it some content and she’ll run away. If it takes more than 5 minutes to process she can’t handle.

    Creative solutions you can find everywhere. correct, it’s not perfect here and it hasn’t been in the past 15 years I’ve been here and it never will be. However, you can do it! Don’t let misery find your company. Paddy will always bitch about something. Move on L magazine!

  • Well yes you need connections and it helps to have a trust fund. Really seems romantic, until you wake up at 40 and realize you are alone, broke, and still looking fo the break.

  • Move to New York if you’re an upper-middle class white artist looking to slum it and play poor and look good while doing it!

  • Hilary> Regarding MICA, you’re right on most counts except one: the MICA I graduated from a few years ago was not aiming the curriculum toward “anime and manga,” and I was an illustration student. A few study abroad in Japan every year, or cite Miyazaki as an inspiration (the same way half of the music industry cites Queen as an inspiration?), but professors and peers actively, openly, and ruthlessly discouraged anyone whose work was too derivative. Character design and concept art was instead geared toward production art/visual development, be it for games or Western animation.

  • the real reason not to live in new york is that everyone’s a fucking faker just trying to shit their way up the ladder. no one cares for real. preacher tellin the truth and it hurts.

  • Anytime Paddy wants to investigate the labor exploitation known as an “internship” by galleries and particularly small film boutiques is fine by me. I lived in S. williamsburg last summer rooming with two people who had internships with the innuendo that the place may hire them. BS, when the word hiring came up they would just say they’re not hiring and that they were giving you valuable on the job experience. One of these people had taken out a loan on top of other student debt, just to live Manhattan/Brooklyn.

  • @Sam. Yeah, I shouldn’t have said curriculum, it’s, MICA that is, still the same old Master’s crap for undergraduate foundation. The painting department for example is a geriatrics ward, Yates is finally gone because of dementia, Barry Nemmit’s the chair has been there for for four decades, Middleman longer, Weiss, George Ciscle, Economos, all these people date from the 70’s. What I was getting at was younger faculty in terms of marketing the school and younger administrators feel the future is in programs related to gaming, CGI, anime since painting majors are dwindling and kids growing up with 1st person shooters want to get into that. They feel with the souring of the Fine Art world this will be a trend for artists wanting to have a job and not wanting to move to NYC to wait tables to pay off debt. With no movement happening in NY, why come here except for the free food at all the openings, and even that is changing with the nomadic site type openings. You said you were there a few years ago, how many is that and were you tuned into what was going on in terms of recruitment?

  • I lolz at all the people bitching. This city generates more wealth for its inhabitants and the people making it don’t bitch about it on the L magazine web. People move here to follow their dreams, some bust, but hardly all. The stories of grandeur travel far and wide and only those whose dreams are lost bitch about it here.

    Never stop dreaming.

  • @ Austin, maybe instead of dreaming you could actually read the article and do you have any friends?

  • Your all in the wrong place. You need to move to London. Americans all over the goddam place these days.

  • its so much don’t move there, Obviously the Internet is permanently down in NYC as NO ONE ANSWERS E-MAILS… especially Galleries