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Signs of the Times
Creative Time's plaques celebrate New York's artistic hot spots of yesteryear

New York’s pace can be so fast that even a decade or two is more than enough for the city to transform itself entirely: The buildings that gave rise to the scene in Soho of the 1970s and ‘80s are largely the same, but in every other way the neighborhood is unrecognizable. Local public arts organization Creative Time has watched these changes and, to celebrate its 33rd anniversary, is placing 33 plaques across the city to keep alive the memory of the artists and institutions who have made their mark over the past third of a century. The project is calledOne Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This, after a 2006 album by proto-punk glam rockers the New York Dolls.

In front of a Lucky Kid clothing store (bottom photo) at the corner of Prince and Wooster streets, a small plaque reminds passersby that an entirely different clientele once flocked there. In the neighborhood’s grungier, more bohemian days of the early 1970s, the artist and architect Gordon Matta-Clark presided over meals at Food (top photo), a conceptual restaurant he operated there that attracted regulars including Philip Glass and Donald Judd. If you call the number on the front of the plaque, you’ll hear the story of how one night, the guests ended up wearing their dinner home.

In Battery Park City, a plaque marks the spot where Creative Time once transformed a landfill into a vibrant summertime exhibition, Art on the Beach(1978–1985). The show blurred the borders between art and architecture with installations such as Jody Culkin’s Vacation Homes of the Future (1985), featuring colorful little rooms buried in the sand. At the Winter Garden, another tells the story of Sonic Garden (2002), an exhibition of four artists including Laurie Anderson, who turned the building into the sonic equivalent of a giant violin. Already the subject of songs by the Talking Heads and the Ramones, the music and performance art mecca the Mudd Club, located on White Street from 1978 to 1983, gets this more formal memorial too. 

While the plaques honor New York’s creative legacy, they also serve as a poignant reminder that with soaring real estate costs, artists are having a harder time finding a foothold here these days. “As the city changes so fast, it’s amazing to think that you’d put plaques to things that existed 30 years ago, because that’s such recent history,” said Anne Pasternak, Creative Time’s president and artistic director. “But already those buildings and those sites are long gone; they’re just part of oral histories…. It’s important that as the city changes, we can still recognize the footprint.” 

Lisa Delgado