22. NANCY SULLIVAN
Not for Sale, 1985, 10’ x 24’
Nancy—who became an anthropologist—kept family and friends apprised of her life in Papua New Guinea, where she worked for twenty years, via the blog nancysullivan.typepad.com. She also reminisced about her life in the East Village.
“In a former life I was an artist on the Lower East Side of New York. It was the 1980s and the Lower East Side was a junk store. Before it got gentrified, before it became expensive real estate, the Gambino family
was running heroin from every other abandoned building between 14th Street and Avenue A to the projects down at Grand Street and Avenue D. Snaking lines of buyers filled our streets, dispersing in milliseconds when, at the sight of a cop car, someone yelled ‘Bajando!’ The neighborhood was crawling with junkies. They sat on the sidewalks, OD’d in the backyards and, with all their passivity and ennui (before crack cocaine radically changed the tempo of addiction), generally filled the landscape with a pall of bathos.
“In our building, Madonna lived upstairs and shamelessly flirted with my then boyfriend who was the assistant director on her first feature film, Desperately Seeking Susan. The front door of our apartment building on East 4th Street was so covered with graffiti it became a postcard. Advertising squalor and chic in equal measure, it was sold to tourists from West Village postcard racks.”
Not for Sale takes brilliant advantage of the STOP sign on the chain link dog cage in front of Nancy’s wall. The sign’s symbolic meaning is made abundantly clear by the two oversized, outstretched hands trying to halt the development—symbolized by the wrecking ball—that threatens the lives of the children playing in the mural’s background.
Nancy became an anthropologist and moved to Papua New Guinea. She gained fame as a staunch advocate for residents whose way of life was threatened by large-scale commercial logging and mining operations, earning the soubriquet “great warrior.” In summer 2015, during a visit to New York City, she was killed in a car crash.