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David Barthold: Tin Pan Alley

Fall 2023

Tin Pan Alley, the stretch of 28th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, once hosted several sheet music publishers. The only conspicuous remnants of this era are the older buildings themselves. West 28th Street is New York City in a microcosm, with the grandeur of history above and the clamor of commerce at eye level. Nothing matches; no property on these blocks has been built with regard to its neighbors. They stand hunched together in accidental proximity like strangers on a crowded subway, with not an inch of space wasted between them. At the street level, the dignified classical facades are profaned with offerings of hats, purses, accessories, food, plants, fitness, accommodations, and art, which vie with one another for our attention. These treasure boxes of 19th-century architecture often survive only on the condition of their usefulness as places of business and have long been torn down to make way for more practical structures.

I’ve sampled the architectural and commercial treasures offered to the eye by Tin Pan Alley to create a sign sculpture of the same name. Given the many available images, I could have made a dozen such sculptures. I was most attracted by the facade of 49 West 28th Street, including the cornice and pediment, the soot-streaked signage of the storefront, the beautiful copperwork panels of 38 West 28th Steert, and the carved stone jambs flanking the entrance to 50 West 28th Street. The prints covering the sculpture are all silkscreens, printed at Gowanus Studio Space from freehand drawings. The substructure, crafted from 20 gauge mild steel, was cut, folded, riveted, and welded together in the metal shop at GSS. 

I’ve been fascinated for some time by how printed matter is changed by its placement in a public setting, especially as posted on street furniture such as lamp posts, mailboxes, signal boxes, and existing signage. Once the print is no longer flat, it seems to unfold as we move past it, revealing itself only through our movement. The erosion, overlapping, and defacement of the print over time on the Street often add to its interest before eventually erasing it altogether. I anticipate and welcome the effect that exposure to the elements may have on the sculpture during its time outdoors at the Gallery. 

-David Barthold, September 2023

A native New Yorker, David Barthold lives in Brooklyn and teaches at Union Square Academy HS in Manhattan, the Manhattan Graphic Center, and the Center for Contemporary Printmaking. After graduating from the Studio Art program at Oberlin College, Barthold studied with Stanley William Hayter in Paris and worked as an assistant printer at Styria Studio on Broome Street. His practice centers on printmaking and extends into painting, sculpture, installation, and illustration, with work currently appearing in Evergreen Review and Sojourner Magazine. His work is held in various institutional and private collections.

David Barthold, Tin Pan Alley, 2023, Silkscreen décollage on sheet metal, 48 x 96 inches


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