To handle the job of collecting over 140 tons of garbage a day, the NYC Department of Sanitation mans a sprawling network of garages, boats, and over 2,000 trucks. And on the top floor of one of the active sanitation garages is a very large collection of garbage — but it’s highly curated, in what might just be one of the art world’s best-kept secrets.
In this dazzling case, one man’s trash is another man’s monumental 45,000-piece assemblage (gallery, civic monument, installation?). And the man who assembled it is Nelson Molina, a former garbage man who worked the Upper East Side of Manhattan for 34 years. If an odd shape, a glint, a sparkle caught his eye, he’d pluck it from oblivion and bring it back to his garage, M11. After three decades of industrious, termite-like persistence, Nelson’s intuitive fossicking gradually took shape into an object of stupefying aesthetic profundity.
He’s since retired, but his collection remains in the care of the NYC sanitation department, where like a desiring machine, it continually attracts admirers and descriptors — art brut, monument, outsider art, thick description, non-site, folk art, ethnography, combine, durational performance, naive art.
We tagged along with New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz on his first visit to Nelson’s gallery.