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Commentary: Why Do We Put Art Above Our Sofa?

By Natasha Nesic, Contributing Writer, May 2, 2017

Why do we put art above our sofa?

Why do we find certain images or objects that move us, that speak to us, on some unfathomable level?

Why are we then compelled to bring these pieces into our homes and hang them up, so that they might move and speak to us for the rest of our lives?

Such were the questions from the walls of 171 Elizabeth Street this past weekend.

Art Above The Sofa, a pop-up exhibition held on April 27-30, was the long-awaited dream of Dr. Beth Gersh-Nesic. Having dedicated her life to art history in all its shapes and incarnations, she crafted this show with the intent of featuring both new and established artists—opening a conversation on what does art truly mean to us, and more relevantly, why does it mean so much.

The process began with an initial contest for new blood, won by international student Wa Liu. Her multimedia self-portrait “Exposure,” a photograph overlaid by bullet casings and resin, was like a gunshot in and of itself: emotionally locked and loaded. Runner-up Vicci Weixi Zhang released her soul across a painted cloudscape and faceless mouth in “Blossom.”

At Art Above The Sofa, these women were showcased surrounding an actual (and comfortable) sofa, where Dr. Beth added works from already-emerged artists from throughout New York. A tour around the room took us through feminism, race-culture tension, and identity expression. Each had its own voice and distinction: from teabags intricately detailed by Ruby Silvious, to Wilhelmina Grant’s bronzework face-bust, to Kathleen Gilje’s portrait of Muhammad Ali, inscribed with his quotes. As guests of Dr. Beth’s standalone home-space, we felt the pleasure and pain of these artists held within the walls of a living space. Art Above The Sofa allowed us to experience what it would be like to have these works around our own sofa.

Full disclosure: I have already grown up in Dr. Beth’s real home-space; she is my mother. Yet for this exhibition, I took myself out of my shoes and into hers. If our choice of home-art is an expression of our own home-selves, our own identities and perceptions, then in selecting these works, Dr. Beth revealed herself through this show as a woman of strength, poise, and resilience. Am I biased? Probably. Art Above the Sofa asked questions, and therein lies its success, because the questions asked were the right ones.

If art is what we believe in, it will be an endless exploration of why do we believe so passionately. Why do we trust in the individuals who capture thought and breath in paper or metal, and why do we feel that this can be nothing but beautiful and right? Many thanks to Dr. Beth Gersh-Nesic and Patrick Hankin for organizing this show. You are beautiful and right for the city.


Cover: photo of exhibit; courtesy of exhibition organizers.


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