At Frieze New York, John Ahearn Brought Back 1970s South Bronx

NEW YORK—Thirty years later, Mario and Norma, Johnny and the Pregnant Girl all returned. Their likenesses, cast in plaster by John Ahearn, were first exhibited in October 1979 at Fashion Moda, an alternative public art space in the South Bronx. Ahearn created his works by coating the faces of his subjects—Downtown art friends, local people from the neighborhood, and participants from a nearby methodone clinic—with molding gel in the Third Avenue gallery’s storefront window. “South Bronx Hall of Fame” was one of eight special projects at Frieze New York, where the approximately 40 works from the original show were on display.

In an interview with Cecilia Alemani, curator of Frieze Projects, Ahearn explained that he had gone to the art space to cast his friend, artist Stefan Eins, the founder of the gallery: “I went there to cast Stefan. We did it in the front window and a crowd gathered from the street. Everyone wanted to know, ‘What is this? Can we do this?’ I returned the next day and began a yearlong residency at Fashion Moda.”

Ahearn and his longtime collaborator Rigoberto Torres recreated the effort at Frieze New York, live casting several people (who commissioned portraits by signing up in advance) during the course of the fair, and regaling visitors with insights about the 1979 exhibit and their projects in the years since.

All photos by Arts Observer

Above, John Ahearn (in yellow) with Rigoberto Torres, at right. Top of page, foreground, “Johnny” with “Pregnant Girl,” at center.

A plaster cast of artist Rigoberto Torres, who has been collaborating with Ahearn for more than three decades.

Inspiration board with images from original project, including a portrait of Torres, and new casts created at Frieze New York. To create the plaster portraits, Ahearn coated the faces of his subjects in molding gel, inserted straws in their nostrils so they could breathe, and covered the gel with plaster-soaked bandages.

At left, “Mario and Norma.”

“Stefan with Hector.”

A newspaper-style handout about the exhibit that unfolds into a poster and Polaroids of some of the people who posed for the original casts.

Far left, “David Ortiz (laughing).”

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