Le Petit Versailles
346 East Houston Street, NY
(between Avenues B & C, additional entrance at 247 East Second Street)
Aurelio del Muro, 7th Avenue, through May 31, 2009
Aurelio del Muro, Twins, 2009
A sure sign that Spring has arrived in the East Village is the opening of the regular season of outdoor events at Le Petit Versailles, which generally runs from early May through October. A community garden and public art space, LPV is the brainchild of a pair of artists, filmmakers, performers, gay/queer/trans activists, green guerrillas and co-conspirators, Peter Cramer and Jack Waters, who are also amalgamated as Allied Productions, Inc., a non profit arts organization established in 1981.
East Second Street gate
Allied Productions continues its independent work in film, performance and public art, but LPV is their ongoing signature project, sunk into the bedrock and topsoil of a neighborhood where they have lived and worked for decades. Like Candide, they must cultivate their garden, still viable in a rapidly changing city where many other squats, gardens and grass roots initiatives have fallen under the bulldozers of real estate development.
LPV has the singular virtue of compactness. It was founded in 1996 as part of Operation GreenThumb, whereby empty lots that once housed tenement buildings (since condemned and razed) were to be used as green spaces for the community. In an imprint no larger than twenty four by sixty feet, Cramer and Waters have engineered a small miracle of DIY ingenuity, sweat equity, recycled materials, volunteer labor, regular composting, raking and landscaping. Their support comes from New York State Council for the Arts, the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, and contributions from friends and neighbors like you.
Cramer with ladder
Tiny and tidy, LPV is replanted every year and contains a dense infrastructure of flora and facilities, including a raised octagonal platform/stage; a trellised bower with picnic table and bench seating; a utility shed and compost heap; various paved paths, railings, and all weather seating; a red brick barbecue pit; and a "great lawn", which this season has been morphed into a marbled mini terrace. It has electrical power and lighting. Unlike some outdoor venues which shut their gates at the hint of a storm, the show must go on at LPV. Like the proverbial postman, they are undaunted by rain, wind and dark of night, and have jerry-rigged a system of tarps and scaffolding to keep things relatively dry, assuming you don't mind the occasional errant drop during a downpour.
My point: these guys are troopers. Over the years, they have hosted art exhibitions, live music, film and video screenings, dance, theater, spoken word performance, workshops and community projects. They have brought in artists from around the world and around the corner, a fundamental application of the dictum to "think globally, act locally".
The tone and subject of the events has varied from the scholarly semiotic to the balls-out homoerotic, from organic urban farming initiatives to Weimar Republic-ish "decadent" naughtiness, from Indian ragas with extended electronic drones to guitar based singer/songwriters, from art films to film camp, from sound compilations to holistic advice on diet, cleansing and fasting, from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again. The word "eclectic" might have been coined to define their wide ranging interests. Some memorable projects are captured in this short sampling of announcement cards:
This year kicked off with an exhibition of carved stone sculptures by Aurelio del Muro, an artist from San Luis Potosi, Mexico who has been working in New York for thirty years. It opened on a thematically appropriate day - May 5, 2009, Cinco de Mayo - and received support from the Mexican Cultural Institute of New York.
Del Muro began carving stone in 1983. His work has obvious pre-Columbian, Aztecan influences, as well as a contemporary, post-modern playfulness. The current show is based on an ancient ceramic figure from Tlatilco called the acrobat. In many ways, the particular combination of folk elements, craft and figuration, the singular appropriateness of carved stone in a garden setting, and the informal, "outsider" status of both venue and artist, is illustrative of the idiosyncratic relationship that LPV maintains with the gallery-bound art world of Chelsea and 57th Street.
Those who wish more information on Le Petit Versailles, its 2009 schedule of events, and the possibility of exhibiting work or volunteering there, should consult its website or use the following contact information: