There’s something to be said for the absurdity of a facade: the forced smiles we don during frustrating encounters, the airbrushed images and whitened teeth and perfectly manicured lawns. But we all do it, for a variety of reasons. It’s kind. It’s tradition. It’s expected. Yet, sometimes, it’s imperative that we peel back the curtain a bit – just to take a peek at what lies deeper. Just like Adam Parker Smith peeling back the curtain (err, wallpaper) at the Andrew Freedman Home in the Bronx.
You’ve heard of the Andrew Freedman Home, yes? It was a bizarre attraction that opened in the 1930’s – a retirement home for formerly wealthy individuals who had lost their riches during the Great Depression. Affectionately described as “being poor in style,” the home boasted white glove service, ballrooms, libraries and billiards – even private opera performances. It’s funny; even though each guest had no money to their names, they sought to afford the perks of the lifestyle they’d grown accustomed to living. What good were food and shelter if not dining with polished silver or sleeping on satin sheets?
The Andrew Freedman Home had a short-lived life and was abandoned in the 70’s where large portions of the house laid vacant. Until 2012, when NYC-based public art exhibition curators No Longer Empty sent in a team of talented artists to transform the lot into a commissioned installation. And for Brooklyn-based artist Adam Parker Smith, he used the opportunity to explore our feelings about wealth and masks and The Jones’ with which we keep.
His installation offered an alternative wallpaper for the space – an enlarged pattern emulating a traditional motif, but upon closer inspection, revealed an array of plastic flowers and fruit, varnished baked goods, cheap hard candies, jelly beans and costume jewelry. “While the materials alluded to opulence, they were purchased inexpensively at a dollar store,” Adam writes. “There was a cheery hopefulness to the arrangement that suggested both optimism in the midst of loss, and the absurdity of keeping up a good facade.”
And I imagine that’s what the guests of the Andrew Freedman Home felt each evening as they hung their hats on the extravagant beds they could no longer afford. I imagine, sometimes, that’s what we feel like as we choose consumption over conservation and more over less. And I wonder: when is our time? Is society our own personal Andrew Freedman Home, catering to our fancy desires for buttery leather bags and fine cashmere? Serving us affirmations of “It’s OK, you deserve these shoes.” and “Reward your hard work!” on a silver platter? Are we living within the four walls of our own facade, enjoying the finer things we can’t (shouldn’t?) afford?
I don’t know. I do know, however, that I have two closets filled to the brim and a pit in my stomach for every impulse purchase and inexpensive reward I’ve indulged in over the years. And perhaps it’s time, for me at least, to check out of my own Andrew Freedman Home and head home.