Jesus Stops Traffic on 5th Ave
A row of cars waiting for a green light was concealed by four large canvases proceeding across New York's busy Fifth Ave., creating the appearance of emptiness from W. 51st St to Central Park and beyond. Artist Nelson Diaz chose Palm Sunday to reveal his latest project, "The Isolated Christ," to the people of New York. The response to this unique mix of street art, performance art and oil on canvas was nothing short of astounding.
Five years in the making, The Isolated Christ is a four-part rendering of the most famous figure in one of Leonardo Da Vinci's most recognized works. Diaz "isolated" the image of Jesus Christ from the apostles in DaV inci's "The Last Supper" and plotted thousands of points on the image by hand. Then, using advanced calculus techniques, he fed the point into an equation that exposes "hidden" four dimensional space in the original image and used the results as the foundation for his signature perspective.
The result is four faces of DaVinci's Jesus, reflecting various situations. The final canvas – transcendence – offers an obscure, almost headless presentation, signifying the departure from the norm. The meaning is left to the viewer, with the religious assuming resurrection and the atheist likely to posit obsolescence. Diaz remains coy with his intention, believing that interpretation (like faith) is a personal affair.
With half a decade spent on the vision and production of The Isolated Christ (all four paintings were completed by hand – sans brushes, literally with his fingers), Diaz spent the last few months struggling with venue. He decided last summer to skip the traditional alternatives (such as art galleries) during his protest against the treatment of art as a commodity, during which he auctioned 10 paintings on eBay for the princely starting bid of $1 each.
"The old way of doing things is dead," he explained during several of our meetings. Deep-pocketed buyers writing checks for pieces they don't understand, he believed, would not be able to sustain itself ... a lesson to which the art market was treated last September. Diaz wanted a public setting. As with his eBay experiment, he wanted to return the aesthetic to everybody, not a self-proclaimed elite.
That left only one "gallery" from which to choose: the streets of Manhattan.
Gallery: Nelson Diaz and The Isolated Christ
Diaz met with his "walkers," four young ladies dressed in black at noon on the corner of Sixth Ave. and W. 54th St. Uniformly petite, each disappeared as she lifted an eight-foot canvas from the ground. Flush with excitement, he explained to them, me and any passerby within earshot, "Today, I'm having a one-man exhibition at MoMA!" He paused, smiled and said, "Okay, let's do it." The paintings were raised, and the column filed around the corner to Sixth Ave for a short display, only about five minutes, and turned the corner to W. 53rd St. and the Museum of Modern Art.
Even in a city treated to the unexpected on a daily basis, many stopped dead in their tracks ... and no, they weren't all tourists. As photographers – professional and random viewers – dashed into the street to capture this event, casual observers sidled up to the artist to get a sense of his purpose for bringing The Isolated Christ to the streets.
A small crowd had coalesced in front of MoMA, unrelated to the guerrilla exhibition, and it took mere moments for it to form a circle around the enormous paintings and extract their cameras. Cars slowed to take in the scene, only resuming their speed well past the spectacle.
Content with his self-proclaimed MoMA event, Diaz moved his aesthetic caravan to 5th Ave. The walkers paused every few blocks, rested the paintings on their toes and stretched their arms, weary from the fatigue. The parallel of carrying that burden before a curious public, of course, were lost on nobody.
Next, the show came to a stop in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral. Supposedly diligent reporters (particularly one from New York's Fox 5), on hand to catch worshippers for their reactions to Cardinal Eagan's illness, did not turn around and notice the four noir-clad women propping up substantial pieces of art. The worshippers, however, bee-lined for the sidewalk, stood on the curb and poked their heads around the canvases to catch a glimpse of the display.
Much to my surprise, people stopped to ask questions.
"Who's the artist?"
"What's it mean?"
"How did he do this?"
"Is he represented by a gallery?"
The most gratifying, to Diaz, was one man who walked up and announced, "This doesn't mean anything to me. Ten minutes later, when The Isolated Christ had crossed the street and settled below the sculpture of Atlas at Rockefeller Center, he was seen again, varying his distance from the artwork, alternately inspecting detail and appreciating the whole.
Two hours after gathering his team, the canvases were stacked against a wall on W. 50th St., and the show was brought to a close ... for now. Diaz and his lovely cohorts will walk The Isolated Christ again shortly after noon on Thursday, Friday and Saturday this week. And, this is only the "opening." On Thursday, the full experience will be revealed on http://www.theisolatedchrist.com/.
"The goal has always been to make this an online show," Diaz explained. "It's the most effective way to bring art to everybody." It's a sentiment he's maintained since first introducing me to this concept in late August. With this global reach, he hopes to take The Isolated Christ from 8.25 million New Yorkers to a world with more than 6 billion people.
Regardless of how you feel about the piece, I'm sure we can all agree that Diaz is returning the aesthetic to the people who deserve it ... the entire world.
[Photos by Steve Ferdman, Bauzen Studios]