Volume 76, Number 9 | July 19 - 25, 2006

In the Meat Market

A special Villager supplement.

Clockwise from above: Ruth Ro’s “Icon” paintings of the Romanoffs, property owners — father Michael, center, and sons Darryl, left, and Stuart, right; Florent Morellet, Meat Market preservationist and restaurateur; and Jo Hamilton, Meat Market preservationist and Community Board 2 member.

A portrait of Market’s movers and shakers

By Lincoln Anderson

There’s an art to making it in the Meat Market, and now a painter is making art about the people who are making the Meat Market what it is today. Ruth Ro, who lives in Chelsea and has a studio on Little W. 12th St., is currently working on a new show, “Icons of the Meat Market,” consisting of portraits of 40 people who play a significant role in creating the character of the neighborhood.

“Whether it’s through preservation, creation, change or advocacy of this neighborhood, the Icons of the Meatpacking District are persons who have defined or are defining the neighborhood,” Ro said. “The Meatpacking District is one of the fastest developing neighborhoods in the city and it’s at a tipping point. This portrait show takes a snapshot of all those who have had a hand in the change. The list of icons is made up of business owners, residents, meatpackers, landlords, developers and city leaders. They represent pioneers, loyalists, risk takers, activists and dreamers.”

Ro’s technique is to photograph her subject in bright sunlight and then manipulate the image on the computer, breaking it down to basic lines to the point where she feels she has captured “the ideal essence of the person.” She then prints out a small black-and-white print and paints from it, doing each portrait in synthetic polymer paint in two or three shades of one color. The technique is very forgiving, she said, noting, “It highlights people’s best features…no wrinkles.”

Among those who posed for portraits for Ro are former City Council Speaker Gifford Miller; Robert Hammond and Joshua David of Friends of the High Line; designer Diane von Furstenberg; Robert Tierney, Landmarks Preservation Commission commissioner; James Ortenzio, former chairperson of the Hudson River Park Trust; Mike, Stuart and Darryl Romanoff, property owners; Keith McNally, owner of Pastis restaurant; Irwin Cohen, owner of the Chelsea Market building; Jeffrey Kalinsky of Jeffrey boutique; Ivy Jeanne Brown of Go Fish Gallery; and Michelle Dell, proprietor of Hogs and Heifers bar.

Ro graduated with a master’s in architecture from Columbia University, then took a research position at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, where she got to meet all the major players in business, real estate and planning.

“The image of the ruthless developer or the benevolent architect or the disenfranchised resident is just that,” Ro said. “These black-and-white characters don’t really exist. Everyone is a shade of gray, some darker than others, of course…. The Meatpacking District is no different. Everyone has a stake in the way the neighborhood changes. From the outside, it seems so simple: it’s a neighborhood where there were a lot of meatpackers and now there are boutiques and nightclubs. Well, to really enjoy the neighborhood, you must dig a little deeper. These individuals tell the story.”

“Icons of the Meat Market” will open in late October at an exhibition space yet to be decided in the Meatpacking District. The subjects will have first dibs on buying their own portraits.

“I’ve already gotten requests for some of the portraits — given that they are not claimed by the subject first,” Ro said.

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