Re-imagining the NYC Newsstand: Petrella’s Imports Take Over The Suzanne Geiss Company

Re-imagining the NYC Newsstand: Petrella’s Imports Take Over The Suzanne Geiss Company

Annabel Graham

Photos: Installation view, Petrellaʼs Imports: Home Screen, an extension of suzannegeiss.net photo by Adam Reich, courtesy The Suzanne Geiss Company, New York.

For years, the New York City newsstand existed as an essential hub of information in dialogue with the commotion of the street, a booth that reflected both the character of its proprietor and of the world around it. As a result of steadily increasing vendor fees and the city’s gradual replacement of old booths with uniform glass-and-metal boxes, the individuality of the newsstand has begun to disappear—not to mention the fact that in a world where information can be accessed digitally at the mere touch of a button, its function is all but obsolete.

Petrella’s Point, a bright red newsstand at the corner of Bowery and Canal, was owned and operated for 30 years by Adam Petrella, a local artist and legend of sorts known for handing out his own sketches of celebrities to passersby. In 2004, the stand disappeared. When the space became available for rent, artists Anne Libby, Elise McMahon and Sophie Stone began their quest to reactivate and reimagine the trope of the New York newsstand. The three rented out the space, renaming it “Petrella’s Imports” and stocking it with artists’ zines, alternative publications and custom items such as handmade umbrellas, water bottles, lighters, snacks and card games. Anne Libby sees this reactivation as standing “in stark contrast to a technological age marked by rapid-fire mutability and a sense of timelessness.” The newsstand, Libby continues, is “a near artifact of the iconic ideas it evokes.”

From July 30th to August 24th, Petrella’s Imports will take over The Suzanne Geiss Company’s storefront space in Soho, providing an installation counterpart to the newsstand app they have created for suzannegeiss.net (a temporary digital platform that is being utilized as a medium by different artists until September 1st). While the Petrella’s Imports app features digital artist projects and zines that users can download instead of news publications, the gallery installation consists of sculptures sourced from the “bookshelf” icon used by Apple, printed PDFs of participant artists’ work (delivered daily to the gallery by the artists in colorful newspaper bags and strewn haphazardly about on each flat surface in the space) and the same sort of custom-made “newsstand” items that were sold at the pop-up stand on Bowery and Canal. Visitors to the gallery may leave with a custom Petrella’s Imports pencil, postcard, water bottle or mesh umbrella (certainly not designed to keep rain out).

OUT OF ORDER sat down with Anne Libby of Petrella’s Imports to talk about the installation, the app and their relevance in considering the wide spectrum of environments we inhabit in daily life.

OOO: How did the idea for the newsstand on Bowery and Canal come about? What was the public’s reaction to the newsstand and the items you sold?

Anne Libby: Elise learned about the original owner, a truly unique New York proprietor named Adam Petrella who operated his newsstand on that corner for 30 years. When it became available for rent, the three of us started working on the idea in earnest. The project is partly historical and partly an experiment in reactivation. Both parts stand in stark contrast to a technological age marked by rapid-fire mutability and a sense of timelessness. The newsstand is an exhausted point of distribution in the modern era, more advertising vehicle than source of information. We chose it to sell the printed work of artists, many of whom take consideration of technology and the internet. Customers and passersby have shared with us a general curiosity about the project and about art’s odd presence within an increasingly commercial environment.

OOO: How did the three of you meet and begin collaborating? What is your artistic or idea-brainstorming process like?

Libby: We met in school at RISD. We share an interest in a broad range of disciplines including painting, filmmaking, performance, and sculpture. Our ideas have come from pressurizing conceptions of “public” as they were and as they are now in an Internet era. “The Newsstand” is a near artifact of the iconic ideas it evokes. It was an ideal thematic point for our collaboration. Pushing the internet and the romantic notions of the street together with all of the implications and aspirations of both has lead us to make the work we have.

OOO: Tell us a bit about the newsstand app you are creating for suzannegeiss.net and how it will relate to (and differ from) the site-specific installation.

Libby: As part of Suzannegeiss.net, our IRL installation “Home Screen” hypothesizes an intertwined relationship with it’s web app counterpart, built to mimic the Apple newsstand app. For the web app, all participant artists create works in a PDF format that can be accessed from any mobile device (available at suzannegeiss.net and petrellasimports.net). The installation is comprised of sculptures sourced from the physical bookshelf used in the Apple icon and from the actual scale, dimensions and materials of the prefab newsstand at Bowery and Canal. Printed PDFs are delivered to the gallery in newspaper bags on a daily basis by the three of us through the end of August. The installation and the Petrella’s newsstand app coexist to provide essential points of departure from both app culture and existent street culture. Their combination allows us to consider the spectrum of environments we inhabit as part of everyday existence.

OOO: In your work, you have focused on collapsing the relationship between digital and physical outposts for contemporary art. Which, in your view, is a more powerful or relevant realm today—the digital or the physical? Which does the public respond to more?

Libby: We think that both present possibilities for innovation. The novelty of “accessibility” in the digital is exciting in theory, but not necessarily more or less effective or informative. The necessity of authorship and intention remain integral despite the prospects of access.

OOO: What has inspired or influenced your artwork most?

Libby: There are too many to accurately attribute, but in total our influences impress a great deal upon us. Mierle Ukeles and Michel de Certeau come to mind lately.

OOO: Any future projects or plans for Petrella’s Imports?

Libby: We have conceived of the Petrella’s app as an ongoing platform for distribution, and it will have a running inventory of free artist PDFs. This fall a second group of artist PDFs will be released. We’re working on new manifestations of our work in the gallery and newsstand to further instantiate new frameworks for artist content.

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