Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Can Man

The Can Man likes art and free wine 
On the Lower East Side


The art gallery is filling up fast only 10 minutes into the opening of the show. Owner Adriaan Vanderplas, stands in the middle of the room smiling broadly and explaining with great enthusiasm how the young Japanese artist displayed just inside the door, is in the US on a special visa sponsored by the Chinese government. He pauses briefly to let a 30-ish man in a red baseball cap and red Chicago Bulls t-shirt pass by. The man has entered the gallery, looking neither right nor left, making a bee-line for the back of the room and the stairs leading to more gallery space in the basement.

“Free wine,” Adriaan says, smiling sheepishly and shrugging his shoulders. “He is here for every opening. Doesn’t look at the art, just heads downstairs to get his free wine.”

The Can Man, so called because he parks his bicycle and an enormous, clear trash bag of nickel-back bottles and cans on the sidewalk just outside the gallery door, is a neighborhood fixture.

“I don’t know his name, but I’ve seen him around for years,” says Adriaan. “He means no harm and causes no trouble and maybe he appreciates the art a little bit on his way in and out.”

This is a common practice, especially among college students and less-wealthy young people, says one young artist standing proudly next to his displayed painting. 

“Kids know the schedule, they know the drill. They get here at opening, mix in with the crowd, get their free wine, then move on to the next gallery.” He shrugs. This is very common, very accepted and all part of the show.

This is the Lower East Side, where art galleries are growing like mushrooms. The vibe is accessible, energetic, youthful, but not necessarily the domain of the young. At this particular show, artists of all ages are represented, sporting many different colors of hair including grey, white, green and fire-engine red. 

A young woman in her early 20s, clutches a bouquet of flowers and grins broadly as her boyfriend snaps photos of her next to her very large, very wild painting. This is her first show. Another woman, middle-aged, conservatively dressed, accepts compliments on her serious, dark blue painting from a young man wearing a hot pink dress. This is not her first time around the art block. The connection between these two is simply arresting.

I’m lurking among the crowd on this particularly steamy evening because my son Alex is showing his second piece at the gallery. I am overwhelmed with parental pride as I watch him interact with his fellow artists and talk with folks about his mixed media work and his creative process. 

Then there is Bokov. Konstantin Bokov is a gallery favorite of indeterminate age and boundless creative energy. Born in the Ukraine and living in Moscow before arriving and staying in New York in 1974, Bokov is the elder statesman in the gallery. He quietly makes his way around the room, connecting with the other artists, mostly younger and greener, like a priest conferring benevolent blessings. Bokov’s pieces are subtly evocative, derived from trash and “found items.” A favorite at this show is his multi-media creation featuring a banged-up dust pan and broom, mounted on a well-used cutting board, all rescued from sidewalk trash cans, and painted to resemble a Cheshire-like cat. To say he is prolific is understatement and Adriaan is a huge fan and major collector, with hundreds of Bokovs on the walls and in his storage room.

Adriaan is originally from Vienna but reminds you of an aging California surfer. He is handsome with kind blue eyes and a greying, honeybrown ponytail. Though not an artist himself, he is earnest and passionate about art, bringing artists together, encouraging collaborations and giving young people a chance. 

It is a singular experience for any artist to say they have shown their work at a New York City art gallery. Unless your sister-in-law or neighbor’s cousin is in the business, it is a mysterious and mystical process to get a piece hung in a gallery show. Adriaan changes his shows every few weeks, often issuing an open call for artists to submit samples to him. He invites many artists back repeatedly and permanently displays Bokov, who always shows up at an opening. You can count on seeing Bokov, and the Can Man.

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