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River City Kids in NYC / Texas Art Troubles NYC

River City Kids in NYC

Bunnyphonic playing in front of the Whitney Museum.


Michelle: Decompressing from a turbulent flight into La Guardia, I bumbled through two bus rides, three subway commutes and a 10-block walk to get to the second stop on the Rider Project. Parked in front of Dario Robleto's show at D'Amelio Terras, the Ryder truck looked anomalous yet curiously inviting in its Chelsea environs. With this truck, founder and artist Michele Gambetta has circumvented the recondite, insider art gallery system and made her own mobile gallery. The show in September, entitled Cell2Cell2Cell: Trucking Times, Netting Times, Unstoppable Systems to the Third , circulated contemporary art in communities throughout New York City and the boroughs. Gambetta also asked Justin Parr, San Antonio photographer and Flight Gallery owner, to install a monumental balloon installation alongside the truck. A few weeks later, she sent out a last call for submissions, and Bunnyphonic (yours truly) got the green light to bring bright melancholia and lotus pink faux fur to the streets of New York.

Opening Night

Justin: My second night in New York turned out to be one of the best. A group of locals took me in and decided to show me the ropes of the city at night. After about five tequila shots at Galapagos Art Space, a beautiful venue with a built-in black lagoon, we headed off into the dark to put 'No Parking' signs at all the Rider Project locations for the upcoming week. Lo and behold, the subways were down for a good part of the city, so it was a walking night in a big way. After we had covered about 60 blocks on foot, wandered uninvited through the meat locker of Boar's Head Provision's main processing facility and climbed two rooftops, the sun started to rise. My friends made me a fabulous vegetarian meal and sent me to a comfortable bed. Welcome to New York City.

Justin Parr walking on the streets in NYC.


Michelle: My first day was hectic (I missed Galapagos Art Space), with new artists in the collaborative meeting each other, trying to figure out whose work went where and generally acclimating to the NYC pace. I wasn't there more than a few hours when I saw some familiar faces going to Robleto's first solo show in the Big Apple, including sound connoisseur Justin Boyd and bright-eyed Connie McAllister. Though some of the works had previously been on view at the Arthouse show this summer, Robleto was also unveiling new, maudlin works of ostensible delicate beauty in an exhibition aptly entitled Fear and Tenderness in Men. Well-groomed New Yorkers crowded into the gallery and offered munificent praise. Some of the crowd drifted toward the Rider Project, and I played a few lugubrious songs for them outside.

Deitch Art Parade

Michelle: The next morning we missed the Deitch Art Parade due to improvident decisions made on the circuitous subway system. However, we didn't miss much, based on the photos in the Village Voice. The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black brought their brand of body paint to the streets, populated as well by a gang of whore cops who have probably been watching too much 'Leave it to Cleavage.' I was sad that I didn't get to see that guy wearing the egg costume, though. I need one of those!! Egad! Justin and I ran for the hills, or at least through the boroughs, where we drank tequila with some wayward Canadian artists on a rooftop.

The next week blurred into a series of subways, pizza places, dubious bars and bellicose locals, all to a background soundtrack of Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska. So, let's skip to the highlights by place and event.

Rider Project on the streets.

1. L Train to Williamsburg

In an elbow-to-elbow crowd in a subway car at midnight, a busker proceeded to provoke listeners with his slurred announcements about needing money. Just as I was tuning him out, the guy bust out a Casio keyboard and started playing the chorus to 'Imagine' by John Lennon. Oh yes, it gets better. For a good 20 seconds, the entire car was singing in unison. It was kind of surreal. Then, as abruptly as it began, it was over. People spilled out of the car and the busker received no pittance for joining the strangers into a curtailed, happy chorus. But smiles were shared all around in what was to be the most un-New York experience of our tour. Perhaps it was a moment of clarity for the city on the eve of the anniversary of September 11.

2. Harlem Near Central Park

Justin: This one was a bit over the top. Where Chelsea left us feeling simultaneously wanted and unwanted, Harlem made us feel right at home. The locals were nothing short of amazing, in friendliness and attitude. As night fell, Bunnyphonic played from the top of the truck to a constant stream of people, and I borrowed a road bike from a friend for about an hour. I rode pell-mell through uptown traffic and across the northern end of Central Park. I then had one of my best meals in NYC at the Uptown Juice bar on 125th Street and Malcolm X Avenue, home to a vegan buffet that would make your mouth water even though it looked like meat to the uninformed stranger.

Bedford Stuyvesant

Justin: Wow. This is a neighborhood most New Yorkers don't venture into, ever. Our best interactions were enjoyed that day, beginning with the guy dressed in an eight-piece suit telling us his name was Otis Redding and serenading us with his most authentic song. Watch this clip here.

Then there was the guy who had outfitted his bicycle with a DVD player and speakers. He was so interested in our show that he rode 110 blocks the next day to meet us at nine in the morning and help set up the truck for Olympus Fashion Week. Bunnyphonic almost got arrested playing in Bryant Park, but they let her go with a stern reprimand.

Rooftop Parties, Bed Bugs & Misc.

Michelle: It was a long trip, with every day different, both of us shedding several pounds from all of the foot travel and sleeping in lots of different locations. Unfortunately for Justin, he stayed on the floor of a studio that turned out to have a domestic population of ubiquitous bed bugs. He woke up itching and scratching, and opted not to bring any of his clothing back to San Antonio for fear of spreading or keeping the pests with him. It's quite funny to him now as he has since acquired a new wardrobe and a sense of humor.

Whitney Museum of American Art

Michelle: Bunnyphonic played music in front of the Whitney. Photographic evidence of the performance, which was quite mellifluous, is pending. By the end of the week, my songs had largely become epic drones of the chords I love to play on my little chromatic accordion. The notes themselves drifted like invisible balloons while the inner clockwork of New York City clamored on.

Images courtesy Michelle Gonzalez Valdez & Justin Parr

Michelle Gonzalez Valdez and Justin Parr are artists currently living in San Antonio.

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