Emily Berger (1979)

Gowanus Dream, oil on linen, 22" X 20"
Red Painting, oil on linen, 22" X 30", 2005
Untitled #7, oilstick on paper, 22" X 30", 2005
Untitled, oil on linen, 18" X 18", 2005
Spring, oil on linen, 18" X 18", 2003

I moved to NY and entered Columbia in 1977. I lived on 98th Street with roommates in a great old prewar apartment sublet. It was cheap. The transvestites on the block kept watch. We felt we were in the thick of it. The Thalia was a few blocks away. Learning my way around NY, taking the subway downtown to the Village and Soho, finding the galleries and art stores and bars, going to museums, I never wanted to be anywhere else. We didn't have much sense of the art market, trying to join galleries, or finding teaching jobs after graduation. We assumed there were none. We were thrilled to have the space and time to work and to meet each other.

The studios were wonderful. The views overlooking 125th St and the Riverside Drive trestle were inspiring. The urban landscape infiltrated my work and keeps coming back. We had supportive professors like Jenny Snider, Irving Kriesberg, Leon Goldin, Bob Blackburn and a wide mix of visiting artists and critics who alternately inspired and terrified me. I remember Rosalind Krauss, Marcia Tucker, who was starting the New Museum, John Walker, Alice Aycock, Chris Wilmarth, Jake Berthot-none of them realizing I'm sure the positive or negative effects their words would have on us. Laurie Anderson came with her voice box and violin. Eric Fischl came and showed slides to a small group of us. We argued about them, about our professors, about our work. We complained and criticized. We had love affairs, danced to soul, disco and punk. Road the elevated train in the blizzard of '78. Ate at the Tien Tsien and the Cuban-Chinese restaurant at Broadway and 125th Street. A potato or banana omelet with cafe con leche for $2 was a great deal.

During the summer of '78 a few of us joined Prof. Howard Hibbard and his art history students for study in Rome. We toured the city's baroque art and architecture from our base at The American Academy and traveled to see Giottos and Pieros and attend communist festivals on weekends. The painters' pensione had only cold water and cost just $2 a night. It couldn't have been more romantic.

Going to Columbia was a great way to start out in New York.


280 Nevins, Looking West over the Gowanus

Out my window,
Shapes rise and fall.
A wooden wall folds into the soft dirt of a grassy hill.
Curved by shadows
Fences undulate across tar,
Black pipes curl like stiff plants
In a tropical garden.

Tarnished silver,
A triangle of road recedes.
Great truck, glorious hippo, you
Emerge slowly from the dark waters of
The Heating Oil Co.

Tree branches shake their leaves and shimmy.
Squares and slants of old buildings hold them
In spaces indeterminate.

I wonder if my words could hold this place
Like an attic room I knew-
Closets, dormers
On a leafy hill,
Tiny blue flowers on the wall.

A bird flies.
A man turns a valve and water sprays
Across a green lot.
The black conduits glisten and the trees continue to move.

The view is packed and layered.
Where does one thought end and another begin?