The Rapidian Home

Round trip to NYC for price of admission to GRAM

New York City artist TJ Wilcox used five cameras to shoot a time lapse record of one perfect day in New York shot from the roof top of his building in Union Square.

Dates and times to view Up in the Air

On View at the GRAM May 17 - August 30

Open Tuesday- Saturday 10 a.m.- 5 p.m., Sunday 12 a.m.- 5 p.m.

Located at 101 Monroe Center Street NW Grand Rapids MI, 49503

T. J. Wilcox, In the Air

T. J. Wilcox, In the Air /Courtesy of GRAM

The Whitney Museum of American Art and Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) are developing a special relationship. Thanks to the coordinated efforts of local fashion designer Pam DeVos and GRAM Director and CEO Dana Friis-Hansen, the GRAM has begun to share some very special shows that otherwise could only have been seen in New York. They've now collaborated on bringing many shows to Grand Rapids, beginning with the Robert Raushenberg show in 2012, the Real/Surreal show featuring such heavyweights like Grant Wood, Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth and more recently the Emily Fisher Landau collection that brought us about 400 works of the most important contemporary artists of the 20th and 21st century.

The latest fruit of this art museum partnership is "In the Air" by New York artist T. J. Wilcox. In the Air is like a giant lamp shade suspended from the ceiling that appears to float in mid-air. It is not a lampshade but actually a continuous movie screen for several different projectors that project a full day as shot from Wilcox's rooftop apartment in Union Square. The movie is actually 60,000 stills shot in time lapse sequence that crunches that day down to just about 30 minutes.

To experience this piece you stand inside of it and are actually immersed in the experience. The cameras shoot perspective does not go down to the street so we are left with a sort of midsection that goes up into the sky. This kind of shot does not include any people or signage- so without those typical anchors of a particular area, you are left with an ambiguity that leaves you with something that feels timeless, classic and even breathlessly romantic.

This continuous time lapse day that is speeding by all around you is punctuated one at a time by short vignettes that tell a particular NY story that has personal importance to Wilcox.

One such story tells of how the Empire State Building was originally designed to have the observation deck on top be a landing pad for the giant dirigibles, or blimps, of the 1930s where the passengers were expected to walk a narrow gangplank from the ship to the building. This looks like a hopeless flight through unreality to our modern eyes- but in a much earlier era it made all the sense in the world. This leaves a thoughtful person to wonder about some of our current future dreams like sending people on the Mars 1 mission with a one way ticket.

The one story that carries the most weight for me is that of John, the building super who shares his up close and personal account of the September 11 catastrophe. Each story suggests the are hundreds and thousands of stories happening all the time and lingering all around us through the ages. Some of these are big stories shared by the culture at large; some are a bit more obscure and some are very personal and shared perhaps by only one and yet powerful for that one person. 

T. J. Wilcox has been making films for a long time. Having done his graduate work at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California he shifted from painting to film making. His earlier work is described on the Whitney Museum about the artist page as:

 "...shooting films on Super-8 film. The films are then transferred to video for editing, and finally printed onto 16mm film for projection. Because of the transfers, the films colors shift, causing them to attain a grainy, worn texture. During post-production, segments of the film are cut and collaged. Wilcox arranges and rearranges units of meaning, divorcing bits of film from their original narrative and recombining them anew. The continuous layering increases the density of the film, collapsing the distinctions between fact and fiction, objectivity and subjectivity, biography and autobiography."

This is what happens when an artist begins as a painter and evolves into a filmmaker. Consider David Lynch, Wim Wenders and Julian Schnable for examples of directors with a painterly touch.

My first gut reaction to In the Air was anger, kind of an "oh great, more NYC propaganda to remind the rest of us who don't live in the amazing city of New York and we are missing out big time."  But then, moving from jealousy and into art appreciation I ended up enthralled with the simple beauty of what Wilcox has created.

The work is something of a love letter to the city he calls home. Wilcox has his city and all the stories that ring his bell but as Wendell Berry points out with nearly every poem and essay, we all have a place and everyone has a patchwork quilt of stories that make up their life.

Perhaps deep down, no one place is really more important than the other, just different. Perhaps everyone has their own crazy quilt of personal stories tied to their home town. It is just that T. J. Wilcox's quilt became something like a giant lampshade floating in the permanent collection of the Whitney and now on loan to the GRAM.

The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.