Date: Originally produced mid 20th century; removed and repurposed 2010s
Dimensions: 48” X 36”
Part of a former business sign, originally MANDEL TOBACCO CO. INC. – WHOLESALE CANDY & TOBACCO, recovered from downtown New York City on East 12th street*.
After decades mounted in the East Village, exposure to the elements are chiefly responsible for the warped frame, rust spots and fading to the original hand-painted letters of this displaced remnant, evidence of a lost stratum of our city’s culture. Preceding the nip-and-tuck of yet another Manhattan facade, this once commercial front, now found object, evokes mixed feelings of nostalgia for the former, the defiant changing of the times and, perhaps, resilience in the face of inevitable decay.
Locals from a few decades ago may remember these letters looming overhead, a shard of the memory of their neighborhood; a vital resource for last minute errands or a pack of cigarettes. Record of Mandel Tobacco’s existence was most vividly captured by artist Zoe Leonard (b. 1961), photographed along with over 400 urban spaces between 1998-2009 for her series Analogue**; exhibitions have included institutions such as Dia:Beacon, Hispanic Society (2009), the MoMA (2015) and Hauser & Wirth (2018). In the earliest stages of the project, Leonard began photographing the lower east side, with focus on closed or slowly crumbling businesses, moving outside the US to depict a disappearing form of urban life on several continents. Taken within the early 2000s, this picture of Mandel Tobacco may be found within the 7th of 25 chapters of this series (the single original color print with the Whitney Museum***), surrounded by other former commerces and lost or abandoned objects, annuls organized into tight, logical grids.
Before the tail end of this sign was segmented and fully revoked of all utility and presence in downtown Manhattan, it was tagged by the one of the city’s most prolific graffiti writers, ‘Screw’ [sic] of the street art organization MSK Crew****. Visually recognizable to the more observant New Yorker, SKREW and these anonymous artists have canvased nearly all corners of this city, signatures now inseparable from its architecture, tunnels, bridges and public advertisements. Illicit as much as it was rebellious, this age-old practice offers impressions of the individual’s existence, their perspective, sidestepping from the more conservative folds of society; an outsider’s cry for representation, a bold rejection of the norm.
SOLD – Private SoHo collection