Simone Subal directs Simone Subal Gallery located at 131 Bowery.
Ludlow 38 often felt like a breathing organism, with its own distinct will and character. Every year, it shed its skin with the arrival of a new curator, but it nevertheless adhered to a certain pattern, staying true to its mission of giving promising young curators an unparalleled opportunity in the heart of New York’s Lower East Side. The shows I have seen in this quirky, unique venue oscillated between moments of conceptually zooming in—an emphasis placed on the close read (Rituals of the Art World, 2011)—and expanding the exhibition space itself while challenging its limitations (Saâdane Afif, L’S BELLS—The Busker of the Gray Line, 2012). In this environment, the micro and the macro cohabitated, sometimes rubbing against one another productively, other times causing friction. Either way, viewers were always challenged, made to think, pushed to understand the intellectual potential of an exhibition. This allowed for many of the shows to feel as if they were in a beautiful flux, more like a floating proposition than a cemented opinion.
For me, this was a great treat: to have a chance to become part of the curator’s thinking process. The commitment to experimentation as well as a belief in the New York art community was emphasized by the countless screenings, readings, and other events. This Rahmenprogramm (a wonderfully precise German word that loosely translates as “framework programming”) provided both a focused lens as well as enticing tangents that acted as a barometer of the curator’s deep dive into the local scene. So often, these nights were marked by packed crowds spilling out onto the street.
On a more personal note, Ludlow 38 was a sweet remedy for my homesickness. I’m a native of Vienna, having now lived in New York for twenty years. I always knew I would run into a bunch of German-speaking friends at an opening or an event. There was never the need to text anyone—it was just a given that they would be there. Ludlow was the natural meeting spot for our geographically transplanted lives. And while the many curatorial adventures were marked by inspiring fluidity, this fact of rootedness was always a welcomed constant.