Dondre: The Old Bronx Courthouse is recognized as a historical landmark of New York City and an icon in the Bronx. It housed the Supreme, Surrogates, and County Courts for two decades until 1934, when the newly nine-story limestone Bronx County Courthouse was built on the Grand Concourse due to an unforeseeable population increase in the Bronx in 1930. During its vacancy, the Old Bronx Courthouse was damaged by vandalism prompting the city to seal all doorways and windows for years. With such a profound significance, I came across an exhibition that is currently taking place for three months in the Old Bronx Courthouse. It was definitely worth a visit with fellow BN members, check out our story here.
I certainly underestimated how spacious the Courthouse was, with three floors of exhibiting work from twenty-six different artists organized by No Longer Empty, it made the roaming process enjoyable. Most of my favorite exhibits were in the basement, like the “Dead End” tiled piece by David Scanavino. I’m a sucker for good colors and I couldn’t help but explore multiple ways of getting the best shot within this particular space of the exhibition.
The exhibition favored a more abstract approach which left some room for explanations. However, I was pleased to see something of this nature come to fruition in the Bronx. It made me think of how many other empty buildings are being underutilized, the potential of more quality Bronx amenities and the lure it could have to intrigue the skeptical outsiders from other boroughs. I know for sure, our art culture hasn’t left.
Kayla: When I read an article about No Longer Empty’s exhibit, available from April 23rd to July 19th, I was hopeful. The Bronx needs more places for people to meet, relax, and experience the borough in a plethora of ways. No Longer Empty’s mission of reviving underutilized spaces to provide the public with free access to contemporary art that also fits the narrative of the community, is a fresh and exciting way to reconnect people with their neighborhood and allows for exploration and appreciation of their environment. Even if temporary, the Bronx has another place. So (as Dondre mentioned*) on a warm and sunny Friday morning, we hopped on the 2 train for our second trip to the exhibit. Themed “When You Cut Into the Present the Future Leaks Out,” the exhibition serves as an homage of sorts to artist Gordon Matta-Clark who was known for using urban spaces as social commentary. Each installment draws directly from the artists’ experiences in the Bronx or inspiration from the form, condition and sounds within the Old Bronx Courthouse.
The pieces at the Old Bronx Courthouse aren’t to be rushed through. Some pieces, like L-Alber-Into by Teresa Diehl, which is one of my favorite installments, require interaction, while others demand time and attention to detail. What I like most about the exhibition is that most of the installments are conversation starters whether you like them or not. I can’t say that I understood or enjoyed most of the pieces. I found myself either liking or strongly disliking a piece and or being confused by the meaning of installments. Overall, I enjoyed the experience. I appreciated having the option to stay within my borough, meet with friends, save money and create memories. One thing I still regret however, is not taking advantage of Uber’s Bronx Week promotion to get a free ride home
Hoay: Dondre reached out one afternoon and told me about what was going on at 878 Brook Avenue and we quickly made plans to check out the exhibition, When You Cut Into the Present the Future Leaks Out. Upon arrival we were a bit confused trying to find our way to the Old Bronx Courthouse. After walking in circles more than once, we finally came across the monumental landmark. Everything leading up to this moment added a sense of allure as I had a chance to take in the ever growing and changing community right before my eyes.
As we entered the Courthouse I knew immediately what I wanted to see, Abigail Deville’s piece "...and justice for all?" (Located on the basement level). It was cluttered but organized, haunting yet comforting, and kept an incredibly mysterious aura as you wandered around the massive heap of debris and clutter. There was a sense of familiarity in seeing objects such as; broken branches, wood, radio’s (still broadcasting some sort of sound), TVs displaying static, dead computer monitors, and dismantled phones. These objects reminded me that these old things were once heavily used and belonged to someone before being thrown away. Considered trash, they lost their intended purpose but found a new life here in "...and justice for all?"
I pondered whether this is what the whole exhibition was about - finding a more efficient way to refocus what was here already, instead of replacing it. I was curious what was to come of the Old Bronx Courthouse? How would it affect the community? Would it become just another worthless place considered “trash” and end up being misused or abandoned? Or would someone find a better purpose for it, as all 26 artists did for this exhibition.
Looking for answers, I found a 2011 article by Daily News writer Daniel Beekman titled, “Owners plans $10 million face-lift for boarded-up Old Bronx Courthouse.” The article expresses that the partners of the building hoped it would serve as “office space” to a wide range of tenants. Some being bookstores, and retail stores. Benjamin Klein, a partner and mechanical engineer stated the Old Bronx Courthouse would “ boast new windows, elevators and mezzanines, plus modern electrical, heating and plumbing systems”. A local business owner mentioned a high-end supermarket would be nice, while a local resident would be happy with anything that created jobs. The article goes on to say that the “face-lift” was expected to be completed by 2012 but three years later and not much has changed. I would love to see the building become some sort of indoor public green space, thriving with plant life - accompanied by music, indoor activities, weekly free events (such as indoor movies, poetry slams etc.), and a variety of food vendors. Hopefully the owners of the building can find a happy medium when it comes to making the final decision.
At the end of our trip we visited La Granja, a Peruvian restaurant located on 500 E 149th St. Having a tasty meal, and a moment to relax we were able to reflect and discuss some of our favorite pieces from the exhibition. For me visiting the Old Bronx Courthouse could be seen as a reminder of how what is considered old, rundown or hopeless can be repurposed instead of being replaced.