“For most of my American life—I came here from Florence about twenty years ago—I have lived in the East Village. I arrived in New York when I was a young man, and though I’m not so young any longer, the East Village makes me feel that way. It’s always bustling no matter what the hour. There is something so fresh and alive about the place, and while it has changed a great deal and new generations have moved in over the years, the spirit remains the same.
“One corner in the Village is unlucky for some reason: it’s on the northwestern side of Twelfth Street and Second Avenue. The spot has been the site of several restaurants and businesses, including the Kosher Tea Room, and now it’s a nail parlor. So many storefronts have changed hands. But if you’ve been living there, you can still feel what came before. Places are gone—but not gone.
“A number of years ago, trendy art galleries opened in the East Village and they just didn’t stick. It was as if the community rejected the scene. Industrial parts of Manhattan like SoHo and Chelsea are full of empty warehouses, so it was easy for the art world to move in. That doesn’t happen in the East Village. People make the rules. It’s a living, breathing neighborhood.”
Bonami is the curator of the 75th Whitney Biennial, which runs through May 30 at the Whitney Museum of American Art (admission $18). Bonami is also artistic director of Florence’s Pitti Discovery Foundation for art, architecture, and fashion and the Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Foundation for Contemporary Art in Turin.