Entering the “bodega,” I was met with all the familiar fixtures: oppressively bright fluorescent lights, a linoleum tile floor and messily stocked shelves crammed with staple grocery items. The freezer case at the front of the store was filled with frozen pizza, waffles, burritos and vegetables. The deli case was chock-full-of the requisite meats, cheeses and sausage links hanging above, their little eyes staring back at you. What’s that? Yes, I said eyes. Oh no, this was no ordinary bodega; I was at the 8 ‘Till Late exhibit at The Standard High Line Hotel!
The show was set to be on display through the end of June but ended up closing nine days early after selling out of the felt sculptures faster than expected. The exhibit was artist Lucy Sparrow’s second go at creating a convenience store almost completely out of felt. The first was displayed in London in 2014 and was called The Cornershop, a project funded through Kickstarter and meant to start a dialogue around consumerism and the decline of community connections in England. For 8 ‘Till Late, the product selection was altered to resonate with the American audience and, with prices starting around $15, meant to reach outside the realm of traditional art collectors.
When she started to explore using felt as a medium, Lucy wasn’t sure the art world would take it seriously. But as the New York show turned out to be an even bigger success than her first installation in London, she’s been proven wrong. In an interview with Brooklyn Street Art, she explains how she sees the line between art and “craft” in her work.
“I don’t think there should be any separation really,” she says. “I’m using craft materials but I’m not worried about the snobs – the same ones who look down their noses at watercolors. It’s the same way that many museums still look down at street artists as not necessarily real art. That’s always the question isn’t it, ‘Is it real art?’ It’s like ‘Who the hell are you to decide?’ This is volume, context, meaning. I’ve never seen it as anything but art. I never realized that it would go the way that it did, due to my own insecurities or I don’t know what. But it did. And it is wonderful to be taken seriously.”
I did see some of this tension on display in the show. In stark contrast to the stocked shelves and coolers of products you would expect to find in your neighborhood market, a gallery with editioned pieces, spot lighting and six-figure price tags was set up in the back. All told, the show included more than 9,000 individual pieces for sale and took the artist about nine months to create with only a handful of helpers. She told me it was largely a one-woman operation and sometimes required 18-hour days. Upon hearing this, my only question was, “And how many moments of regret for signing up for this insane undertaking?” Her response, “Hourly.”