November 29, 1980

'Bluejays in Syracuse, Rats in NYC'
by Jerry Tallmer

It's not your usual art show. Maybe it's the peaceable kingdom.

A hen struts across the floor, pecking for grain, then tries to flutter up into a storefront window occupied by three city pigeons and two fat white squabs. Over here are some mice; over there a rat. In yet another corner, Marvin the New Wave Hamster does his stuff. A bored black cat ignores hen, pigeons, squabs, mice, rat, and hamster to rub luxuriously against a human knee.

"I see we lost a cockroach during the night," says Christy Rupp, reaching into the cockroach exhibit to dispose of its corpse with a Kleenex. The rest of the show--Christy Rupp's second annual "Animals Living in Cities" show--is on the walls and tables here at ABC No Rio on the Lower East Side.

There are paintings, drawings, sculptures, posters, advertisements, government texts. Contributors range from grown up artists and scientists and museum people to a half a hundred kids of School District 1 under the supervision of Filomena Bruno. The work ranges from some superb photographs by Martha Cooper, late of the New York Post, to a trunkful of pig footprints from Staten Island by Angela Freemont, to Paulette Neener's collage of quotes from Ronald Reagan the environmentalist.

Christy Rupp is the 32-year-old sculptor who the summer before last plastered rat posters all around City Hall--just three weeks, as it happens, before the headlines were chattering about a woman attacked by a pack of rats one block from City Hall Park. Out of that came City Wildlife Projects--Christy Rupp, director--and out of that came last year's first annual "Animals Living in Cities" show, up at Fashion Moda--a sort of "museum of art, science, technology, and fantasy"--in the South Bronx.

Now there's this one, at ABC No Rio, 156 Rivington St., a premises given over by the city to several groups of downtown rebel artists. ("ABC No Rio" stands for "No Rio Dinero"--no river of money.)

Christy Rupp isn't exactly a rebel. She's an idealist.

"Though I don't for a minute want people to think that this show is defending rats," she said, "rats should be seen not as filthy little things. Rats are a symptom. Garbage is the cause."

She plucked one of the fat white squabs out of the window of colored-paper silhouettes by artist Anton Von Dalen, and cradled the bird on her lap. Among her own works in the exhibit are a plaster seagull about to be done to death by a beercan, and some plaster rats.

"Rats are not terrorists, " she said. "Are not inherently evil. They're animals like any other animals. They don't come into the world meaning to harm man. I see them as part of the history of ecology, in the whole chain of things. It's simply that they're out of control in the cities."

She picked up a blue government booklet full of statistical tables from a 1978 Cornell University study titled Interests, Needs, and Attitudes of New York's Metropolitan Public in Relation to Wildlife.

"It's all about bluejays and chipmunks," she said. "Which is fine if you live in the thriving city of Syracuse and have a father who drives you out into the country every weekend." (Christy Rupp is originally from Buffalo.) "But it's not much good if you live on the Lower East Side and don't have a father."

She waved a hand at the Lower East Side, outside the storefront window. At that precise moment a Sanitation Department truck pulled away from the curb, leaving a huge pile of unbagged garbage on the sidewalk. "There," said Christy Rupp. "See?"

She herself lives in the financial district. "Well, I have a cat right now, but in general I'm not a big pet person. I like animals, but it's really more an interest in other people's opinions of them."

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