The very cool and eclectic East Village ‘gallery’ Eerdmans opened its doors to Sam Sidney: New York Never Felt so Good ~ an exhibition of iconic New York City images.
These finely crafted felt portraits depict some of NYC’s larger-than-life personalities like Andy Warhol, Joan Rivers and Billie Holiday, and hallowed civic iconography like a metro card, a street-cart hotdog, and Lady Liberty.
Sidney’s work distills the spirit of the city into a riot of vibrant color and masterful lines via her Instagram-famous felt layering technique. Breakfast-at-Tiffany’s-era Audrey Hepburn plays it cool in a little black dress, pearls, and shades. The blue-and-white Greek-themed coffee cup brims with questionable brew.
Jackie O’, no doubt en route to The Carlyle, dazzles in yellow Chanel. Other portraits include John Lennon,, The Notorious B.I.G., a bagel and lox, Anna Wintour, a Birkin bag, a taxicab, Iris Apfel, and Louis Armstrong.
“When I think about New York, I think about the quintessential new York ~ the real New York,” Sidney says when asked how she chose the images to portray. “A little bit dirty, a little bit dangerous, a little funky and gritty. Things like Ghostbusters and The Muppets and Joan Rivers. Basically, the things that remind me of going into the city as a kid.”
Her roots in the area stretching back three generations, Sidney grew up on Long Island, visiting the city at every opportunity and obsessing over its arts scene. (In her elementary years, she swapped handwritten letters with an up-and-comer named Keith Haring ~ who also gets a spot in the show). After studying Studio Art at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, she made the inevitable move to Manhattan.
“I always thought the coolest thing in the world would be to spend the night in the city ~ and wake up there, to not have to take a train there,” she says. “That first day when I moved into my apartment, that was the ultimate.”
While living in Gramercy Park as a twenty something, Sidney showed at various galleries, most notably her installation of hundreds of pairs of thrift-store-bought high heels, arranged by color into a periodic table. (The piece, which garnered a review in The New Yorker, was later installed the Soho Chanel store).
As its title suggests, New York Never Felt So Good marks the revival of a city that appears to have the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic behind it. In fact, the show may not have materialized were it not for the homebound isolation the virus imposed. Sidney, after earning her master’s in Art Education from NYU, moved to Charleston, South Carolina, in 2007, and stopped exhibiting her work publicly. When the pandemic hit last year, the mother of four found herself at home with the kids every day, and arts and crafts took on special significance. She set a goal of posting something she’d made to Instagram daily, one piece being a self-portrait composed of felt scraps she had lying around. A style was born. It’s this same approach that can be seen exuberantly at play in the Eerdmans show.
“I just kept going,” Sidney reflects. “I’m kind of addicted to making them. I have to stop myself sometimes.”
In January, 2021, Eerdmans founder Emily Evans Eerdmans approached Sidney about doing a show; the two bonded over their shared enthusiasm for a city hit hard by the pandemic but now roaring back to life (if not completely linearly). Says Sidney, “It’s such a special time for the city ~ a rebirth, a reset. There’s so much potential. It has an energy nowhere else has. It’s just such a special place.”
We think Sam Sidney’s work is special – and this exhibition is in a special place.
Sam Sidney: New York Never Felt So Good will be on view to November 6, 2021 at Eerdmans Fine Art, 14 East 10th Street, NYC.
Follow Sam Sidney on Instagram.