Think of the courage and the nerves of steel a Test Pilot for the US Navy or Air Force must have: strap yourself into the cockpit of a new plane or helicopter and go give it a spin, then report all malfunctions it may or may not have on the return trip back. In the 1950's, one test pilot a week was getting killed on the job. Thank God the mortality rate in our modern era of aviation has been cut dramatically from that insane statistic. Just as we can thank Guiliani for the decline in murder rates in New York City, and by staggering amounts: from over 2000 a year in the early '90's to under 400 in the current one; and that's with over one million more people than the city had in 1992. What does this have to do with Frank Shifreen? Two things: For one, Frank Shifreen has been a test pilot-trailblazer for the New York City art world these last 40 years. And number two: you wouldn't want a return to the times that David Byrne laments about -for creativity's sake- in his latest editorial for The Guardian, in a million years. To find a dead junkie on the sidewalk or in an abandoned car was not uncommon, especially on the Lower East Side where Mr. Shifreen has been making his art all these years and still calls home. But there's more: Frank began hosting epic party-shows in the 70's -when gas lines stretched around entire city blocks and muggings rampant- with tons of artists involved and in places that were still legit (or at least overlooked) for dumping toxic waste. There was his 1981 Monumental Show in Gowanus, Brooklyn, that featured Keith Haring and Carl Andre as part of the lineup of over a hundred artists and visited with over four thousand spectators the first weekend. New York Magazine called it 'the event of the season' and with 'Gowanus Guerillas' as title for the article it secured Frank's claim as an avant garde test-pilot indeed. Always on the cutting edge and always socially conscious, Frank helped organize Art Against Apartheid, in 1984, when Nelson Mandela was still yet free. The show was held in 26 locations throughout the city. Mr. Shifreen doesn't shy from the grand, the epic. And his neo-expressionist paintings reflect this, the ones now on view at the International Fine Art Consortium's inaugural show, in their new headquarters at 85 Delancy Street. Marcel Duchamp must have had an artist like Frank Shifreen in mind when he declared: I dont belive in art. I believe in artists. Because what kind of artist dedicates the last 20 years of his life to teaching homebound disabled students for the NYC Board of Education while still maintaining a life as creative trailblazer, as test-pilot to the unknown, the uncharted, and as free spirit in this capitalistic capital of capitals?
New York is still and will always be a vibrant city for artists (regardless of the 1%, Mr. Byrne), it just takes a certain type, like Frank Shifreen, to keep making it so.
I invite all Talking Heads to visit and buy some art, now!