My recent visit to 821 Sixth Avenue NYC

I had the occasion recently to visit New York City for several days. I saw a lot of terrific art, including the Cindy Sherman show at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Biennial, and the Francesca Woodman exhibition at the Guggenheim.

I also took the opportunity to stop by 821 Sixth Avenue, a commercial building in New York’s Flower District. The photographer W. Eugene Smith lived in a loft in this building from 1957 through the 1960s. Throughout this period, the upper floors of the building were also occupied by a number of artists and musicians, and visited by many more. Smith made tens of thousands of photographs of these inhabitants and visitors, and of the neighborhood in general. He also made thousands of hours of audio recordings capturing daily life amid the inhabitants and visitors to the building.  These audiotapes also include unique recordings of rehearsals and jam sessions by the numerous musicians who visited, including jazz pianist Thelonious Monk, and saxophonists Sonny Rollins and Gerry Mulligan.

The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University has organized a traveling exhibition of a selection of these photographs entitled The Jazz Loft Project: W. Eugene Smith in NYC, 1957 – 1965, that is currently on view at the Museum of Photographic Arts. The exhibition, which also includes audio tracks from Smith’s recordings of the jazz musicians he met, is a fascinating glimpse into musical and artistic life of the period.

…and it all happened in this inconspicuous commercial building on Sixth Avenue between 28th and 29th Streets.