Retail on Broadway

Walking the entire length of Broadway—the thoroughfare that stretches from New York City’s Financial District in the south to the northern tip of Manhattan—Nobutaka Aozaki constructs a biographic snapshot of the city by meticulously notating the names of every ground-floor retail business, depicted here in text.The central space symbolizes Broadway with the left and right text representing businesses located on the East and West sides of the street.

An ongoing project since 2018, the textual map rendered here reveals the evolution of the city’s neighborhoods along Broadway, noting shifts in the urban fabric. In a new performative reading choreographed by the artist, invited guests give voice to the project by reciting the business names from 2020. The audio from this event, which took place on October 8, 2020, is featured here. This conceptual portrait examines the meaning of urban adaptation and change, a notion that is further underscored by Broadway’s origins as an important Native American trail.

Sidewalk Ephemera

In this peripatetic project, Aozaki takes explorative walks, gathering items from the sidewalk throughout New York City. Found objects, notes on scratch paper, and plain waste that instinctively captured his attention are collected on these urban wanderings. The pieces displayed here—including new atmospheric sound clips recorded from the street by the artist—come from Aozaki's recent treks on Broadway (as indicated by the timely references to voting, for example) and are arranged in an abstracted composition that corresponds to the location in which they were first observed as if pinpointed on a map. Taken together, his findings of discarded debris become a diaristic account of city life.

In Grocery Portraits (2020), Aozaki has collected shopping lists discovered during his expeditions in Manhattan. Using scribbled on post-it notes or scrap pieces of notebook paper as his starting point, the artist enacts a mundane, everyday experience of anonymous fellow citizens: the act of grocery shopping. Once a list has been chosen, the artist shops for each item and creates a new still life portrait from the assemblage of purchased groceries. The resulting photographs, shown here alongside the original shopping lists, each with their distinct handwriting in different languages, convey something of the cultural habits and personal qualities of the city’s diverse human inhabitants. Through his determined methodology, Aozaki establishes a subtle relationship with time and its passage; his ephemera are traces that encapsulate it, distill it, index it.

Subway Drawings

This ongoing project began while Aozaki was a resident at Wave Hill in the Bronx (2019). Featured here are a selection among the hundreds of drawings the artist has created while riding the New York City subway. Moving through the drawings chronologically, from earliest to the most recent, reveals a shift in artistic styles, from pencil drawings to more detailed watercolors. Changes in the everyday habits of his subjects are also reflected, perhaps most notably by the wearing of masks, which speak to the urban context that inspired this series. Aozaki’s near daily, repetitive practice of sketching anonymous figures that he encounters by happenstance speaks to the artist’s larger practice of creating work on the street involving pedestrians and the larger public.

Artworks courtesy of the artist © Nobutaka Aozaki