This Side of Paradise: New Art Exhibit Breathes Life into Old Bronx Mansion

5 Apr

Last night’s opening reception of the Andrew Freedman Home in the Bronx was an incredible sight to see. Hundreds of spectators packed into the Renaissance-style Italianate villa, reopened for a new modern art exhibit after being largely abandoned for more than 30 years.

The Andrew Freedman Home, bequeathed by millionaire Andrew Freedman, was once a retirement haven for New York’s wealthy and elite who had lost their fortunes. Opened in 1924, the home provided food, shelter, and all the amenities of the rich and lavish lifestyle its inhabitants were accustomed to. Those included a white glove dinner service, a grand ball room, a wood-paneled library, and a billiard room. By the 1980s however the building fell into disrepair, and the majority of the rooms were abandoned.

Now, after more than 30 years the home is breathing new life with help from a group of 33 artists. The artists, along with nonprofit art group No Longer Empty, have turned parts of the home into a contemporary art installation titled This Side of Paradise. Developed in partnership with several Bronx arts groups and the Mid Bronx Senior Citizens Council, the exhibit is open to the public.

The installations themselves are all inspired by the Freedman Home’s past and the current social environment of the Bronx. As a part of the project, the artists were given free rein to rummage through the closed off rooms of the villa, many of them still crowded with artifacts of the home’s older days. Some of these artifacts served as central pieces in the artists’ new installations: An old Walters upright piano, discovered in one of the upper floors, sits covered in Remington, Smith-Corona and Underwood manual typewriters.  Jagged sheetrock panels, arranged to look like torn pages of an open book, are covered in old images and immigration documents of former residents.

The open pages piece was created by artist Linda Cunningham. Some of the hauntingly beautiful photographs she uses, many also discovered in an abandoned room, were taken by artist Sylvia Plachy. Plachy photographed some of the Freedman Home’s residents when the house still served its original purpose, but has now returned to be a contributing artist in this new exhibit.

Other pieces reflect much more on the modern realities of the Bronx. A flat-screen video montage shows images of Bronx residents, as their messages to President Obama scroll along the bottom screen. A lengthy sculpture of linked arms hangs on the wall.

While there are two group exhibits on the main floor of the house, there are also exhibits by singular artists on each room of the second floor. All of the artwork is new, innovative, and relevant to the exhibit’s overall theme of linking past and present together.

Much of the Freedman Home has yet to be restored, but as the building receives more attention and more funding, hopefully a larger restoration can take place.

The exhibit definitely received a lot of attention last night. Hundreds of people from all walks of life packed through the halls, in the library and galleries, and up the stairs to see the new transformation. Many of the guests were residents of the surrounding Bronx, coming to admire the newest cultural addition to their neighborhood.

The feeling of community was overwhelming as attendees mingled and laughed and enjoyed the inspirational artwork. While the exhibit ended at 8 p.m., hundreds continued to stay until the late night hours, enjoying a jazz-style after party that left everybody in the mood for dancing.

And dance they did, friends and strangers of every age, race, and community group together. What a wonderful new start.

  • This Side of Paradise is running now until June 5.

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