West Chelsea Contemporary, an art gallery on Tenth Avenue between West 23rd and 24th streets, has launched an exhibition titled, “New York Artists for the Bronx.” It will support victims of the January 9 fire that killed 17 residents of the Twin Parks North West public housing apartments.
All of the artwork has been gifted by New York-based artists and all proceeds from pieces sold will be donated to the Bronx Fire Relief Fund, a sub-fund of the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City.
Elisse Geberth, the curator of the exhibit, said she spoke with the office of Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson to ensure that the proceeds wouldn’t be put into a “slush fund,” but instead given directly to the individuals and families in need.
“We were careful about that,” she said.
According to Ivette Davila-Richards, Mayor Eric Adams’ deputy press secretary, the Bronx Fire Relief Fund has received “thousands of grassroots donations from individuals and organizations” since the fire took place and is in the process of deciding how best to distribute the funds, which have already exceeded $2.5 million.
“The Mayor’s Fund is working with various institutions and city agencies and is currently coordinating with them to assess the needs of those impacted to determine how best to support them with funds raised in the long term,” Davila-Richards said.
The exhibit at West Chelsea Contemporary is one of at least 30 fundraising efforts that have taken shape since the fire, 24 of which are GoFundMe pages created to support individuals and families. Lisa Russell, Founder and President of West Chelsea Contemporary, said the gallery has always looked for ways to help the local community since it opened in November 2021.
“One of our five core values is community, and giving back,” she said. “The mission of the company is to be approachable and accessible.”
The exhibit pieces for sale range in price from $150 to $10,000. The majority of the pieces, 32 of 44, sold in the first five days of the show, and those sales have raised more than $6,600.
In curating the exhibit, Geberth sought to incorporate a mix of street-based and contemporary artworks created by both established and emerging artists, who she said were eager to participate. The exhibition took roughly two weeks for her to assemble.
Though many of the artists are not directly connected to the Bronx, or to the Gambian community that was particularly affected by the fire, one of the artists, 0H10 M1ke, used to tutor individuals from the West African community in the Bronx. He does not know yet if any of his former students were directly affected by the fire, but he felt compelled to contribute to the exhibit. He created a piece specifically for the show titled, “The Bronx is Crying,” a play-on-words on the infamous phrase “The Bronx is Burning,” derived from a fire in the South Bronx in 1977.
“The piece is meant to capture the pain and suffering associated with a fire,” he said. To illustrate this, he included melted personal items and dripping faces. “The color theory is based on smoke damage, earth tones and FDNY caution tape yellow.”
0H10 M1ke wants the city to conduct better oversight of public housing in the city and install better fire safety doors and sprinklers in apartment buildings. Additionally, while survivors wait for pending lawsuits that have been filed against the building’s current and former owners to move forward, 0H10 M1ke hopes the funds raised through the exhibit will provide families with immediate aid.
Tashawn Brown, a spokesperson for the city’s Office of Emergency Management, said Wednesday that more than 200 residents who have been living in hotels since being displaced by the fire can continue to do so until March 7, extending the deadline past the original date of February 7. This will give the residents additional time to secure housing.
Another artist featured in the exhibit, Fernando Carlo, known as “Cope 2”, is a graffiti artist originally from the Bronx. He began painting his signature phrase “cope2” on city subway cars and Bronx streets as early as 1978. The piece he created specifically for the exhibit, titled “Iconic Image,” is a direct reference to graffiti art that has become commonplace across the borough.
Josiane Lysius, the business manager for artist Craig Anthony Miller, known as “CAM”, purchased a piece from the exhibit.
“My husband lost everything in a fire when we were together, so I know what that’s like,” she said.
For Geberth, the primary goal of the exhibit is to keep people thinking about the implications of the fire even though it has been several weeks since the fire occurred.
“It’s not just about giving in the short term. There are systemic issues,” she said. “To keep the conversation going is what we can do to put pressure on federal and local government about housing inequities.”
The exhibit ends February 27.
This story is the work of a student at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Other news organizations are welcome to publish this story as long as they adhere to these guidelines.