The Bowery Bums

Zurcher Gallery, November 13 through December 23, 2021

Loren Munk “Bowery – The Lower East Side (Study 1)” (2018), Oil on linen 42 X 36

Loren Munk has performed a strange feat of reverse engineering. He has deconstructed his own paintings by curating a show of individual artworks from the artists listed on his maps and arranged them according to the addresses of the studio buildings in which they were made.

Some odd and interesting juxtapositions are created thereby, but the assembled works don’t expand on the idea of community that Munk’s paintings embody. Maybe because the sample is so small, but I don’t think it would work even if MOMA threw all of their resources into it—though I’d like to see them try.

I am a big admirer of Munk’s work. He has invented a new form, brilliant in its use of color, map design and organization of data. Seeing On the Bowery, I recognized for the first time that his paintings are actually memory palaces,” also called the “method of loci” and used in ancient times. I hope you’ll stay with me while I try to explain it. This is a description of the term from The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci: *:

“…a mental construct…to provide storage spaces for the myriad concepts that make up the sum of our human knowledge. To everything that we wish to remember, wrote Ricci, we should give an image; and to every one of these images we should assign a position where it can repose peacefully until we are ready to reclaim it by an act of memory.”

John Lienhard** describes an example of how this might work:

“Suppose a modern medical student were to build a memory palace. In one room he might put a Mountie on his horse, leading a manacled prisoner. That triggers the phrase, Some Criminals Have Underestimated Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The first letters of each word, S, C, H, U, R, C, M, and P, identify the shoulder and arm bones — S for scapula, C for clavicle, Humerus, Ulna, Radius, and so on. He can fill his whole building with bizarre people and things to aid his memory of bones, muscles, and nerves.”

Loren Munk “The Bowery and The Lower East Side” (2018-2021), oil on linen 72” X 60”

Usually, the memory palace is a series of imagined rooms that are filled with images that evoke strings of words or numbers. Theoretically it is possible to memorize vast amounts of data in this way.  Munk has given it a twist—he has filled the gridded streets of New York with words and those words evoke images, years and years of images. I see “Louise Nevelson, 129 Spring Street” and I think of all of her work that I know and everything that I know about her, plus memories of Spring Street and the many times I have walked there myself. Ditto for Burroughs (222 Bowery), Leaf (184 Bowery), Hesse (134 Bowery), et al. The more you know, the bigger the memory palace is, and that would be true for the medical student in the example as well.

Brenda Goodman, “Self-Portrait 10” (2005) 16” x 12”


Ronnie Landfield, “Yellow, Green, Orange” (1969) acrylic on paper, 13 1/6” x 16”

194 Bowery: This is an example of one of the many odd juxtapositions. Painted in the same building, perhaps even in the same studio, with a span of 20 years between them and seeming to have nothing in common. Goodman’s self-portrait is muted, existential, with a lovely soft palette and Landfield’s work is bright, exterior, referring to landscape or possibly to music. Wonderful paintings, but almost disproving that location influences community

“Eva Hesse preparing her Bowery Studio for photographer Gretchen Lambert” (1966)

I love this photograph of Eva Hesse in her socks, said to be “preparing her studio” by blowing up a balloon of some kind. I will add it to my memory palace.

“On the Bowery” installation

The Lichtenstein ‘72 and the Gottlieb ’69 were made at 190 Bowery within three years of each other and worlds apart. I wonder if they were debating Pop Art versus Abstract Expressionism in the halls?

Malcolm Morley, “San Francisco Peak” (1981) watercolor on paper, 22.5” x 30”

This Morley does not seem to be painted on the Bowery at all but might have been because he did work from postcards. It is beautiful. (The horizontal white lines and the vertical dark ones are reflections.)
The artists in this show might have been getting drunk together, beating up or screwing each other, but they did not seem to be talking about how to paint a mountain.

But maybe I shouldn’t be looking for community in the sense of shared ideas. I begin to find it more likely that Munk’s paintings depict an invading force of armies of one, occasionally forming tactical units before dispersing. When one soldier dies, another rises to take their place.



*The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci by Jonathan Spence. 1884


**Engines of Ingenuity, No.1226 Ricci’s Memory Palace by John Lienhard