By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
It's not a revolution, but it'll do.
Ben Heckscher is a soft-spoken finance manager in his forties who happens to live near the Second Avenue Subway construction site. He started taking pictures of the work, first posting them at The Launch Box in April 2007.
Since then, he has updated the blog almost daily, adding hundreds of photos with very little commentary—mostly facts, dates, and links. Over two and a half years, he has compiled a massive, meticulous, and probably unique record of the big dig. Even if you don't care about subways or construction, you have to admire this act of devotion to a single topic.
"It's a lot of work," Heckscher says. "Each posting takes four to six hours of work. It's almost a job." Yet he's not interested in making money from it, doesn't take ads, and says he doesn't want a job with the MTA or any other career opportunity out of The Launch Box. "I'm just someone who lives in the neighborhood," he says, "who's interested in the project."
It hardly seems like mere interest, and we had to ask if people consider him single-minded or unusually focused. "I can be, when I find a project that I'm interested in," he says. "Then I'll dive in." He has no other hobbies except photography. He's educated as an electrical engineer, and though he has no experience in construction, as he watches the work slowly advance, "I can imagine what they're doing and why they're doing it."
Heckscher says he strives not to express a point of view on the project, preferring to "let other people draw their own conclusions." But he's obviously proud of what he has accomplished. "What you see at the blog is different from what you'll find at the MTA website or anywhere else," he says. "The Times, for example, covers the Second Avenue Subway every couple of months, and then they move on. But if you're interested in this topic and you come to this blog, you'll find a lot of information without wandering around."
So if you're really interested in the project, Heckscher's site is a good place to start. "If you go to Google and search for 'Second Avenue Subway,' " he says, "you'll probably get a million hits, but you can't make sense of it because it's just a long list of everything they could find ordered the way Google thinks it should be ordered—it's like walking into a library without a card catalog." —EDROSO
The New York art world is in major flux, the post–Deitch Projects local gallery scene is a big, fat question mark, and Paddy Johnson is perched at the edge of it all, perpetually wondering, "What is this shit?" That query has become a mantra for Johnson and her four-year-old blog, Art Fag City, ever since the native Canadian overheard a befuddled gallery-goer demanding the same thing back in December 2005 and posed the what-is-this-shit inquiry in an AFC headline. "It's a question I ask myself continually," she says. "What I've been trying to do here is make things clear for people who don't spend every living moment in the art world, and give them a set of tools with which to look at contemporary art and engage with it."
Sometimes, that means alerting readers to events like the Art Handling Olympics, inviting artists to pound out essays about a specific image (like, say, a photograph of a controversial Bruce Lee sculpture erected in Bosnia), or plotting a Google Map of Taco Bells near the gallery-choked environs of Chelsea and the Lower East Side. Other times, it means producing an Art Fag City–branded line of limited-edition temporary tattoos or, more importantly, simply maintaining the irreverent tone that a moniker like Art Fag City implies. "The name of the blog reflects the time that it was founded. In 2005, writing independently on the Internet seemed like an aggressive, bombastic thing. You could say what you wanted, finally."
Johnson, 34, isn't shy to admit that Art Fag City's conception was a by-product of creative and professional failure. "I had been working in galleries, and was fired from the last four, and it got to the point where I wasn't getting called back anymore," she says. "At a certain point, you can't explain why you get fired from so many jobs." Simultaneously, Johnson, who has an M.F.A. in visual arts from Rutgers, was suffering from stage fright with her own painting and sound installation pieces. Her personal work was crippled, but musing about the culture of art on the Web felt both productive and freeing: "Blogging has its own self-imposed structure. You have to post every day; you can't afford the luxury of worrying about what somebody's going to think."
For a few years, the Brooklyn resident maintained a full-time job while running Art Fag City at her own expense—for a period, General Electric hired her to install art in its corporate offices. But when the economy tanked, Johnson concurrently lost that source of revenue and landed a writing grant from the Warhol Foundation; Art Fag City, an increasingly essential identity that also inspired a weekly column in L Magazine, became her primary occupation. Still, going it alone with meager income from tricky conflict-of-interest advertising is a risky financial proposition, one that had her resort, at the end of 2009, to an online fundraiser that earned more than $5,000. Art Fag City's future is both acutely bright and relatively blurry. "Either I'm unemployed, or I'm a full-time blogger," Johnson concedes. "I'm not really sure which one it is yet." —CAMILLE DODERO