Remembering Laurent Danchin (1946-2017)

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Louis DiBaggio

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About the Artist/Site

Little is known about the life of Louis DiBaggio, but he apparently grew up in the Brooklyn area and served with the U.S. Military during World War II. As early as the mid-1980s he had begun to display a few hand-painted religious signs  throughout his property, and by around1990 he would often be seen in front of his building or walking up and down the street, wearing work pants and an old white dress shirt. Paper cut-outs with hand-written religious messages were pinned to his clothes, and a small black transistor radio hung by twine from around his neck. Often holding a tall staff, he would confront passersby on the street—sometimes with calm messages about salvation but sometimes with chilling rants about redemption and doom. Departing from the subway station two blocks away, Troyan Tecau, a neighborhood friend, once saw DiBaggio, garbage bag in hand, cleaning up his subway car and aggressively proselytizing fellow passengers.

DiBaggio would often sweep the street along the curb in front of his building on busy Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn during those times when alternate side restrictions cleared out the parking lane for three hours twice a week. As a property owner he was responsible for keeping the curb area clean in front of his building on the corner of 23rd Street, but DiBaggio continued to sweep for a few blocks in either direction. He also neatly painted the metal curbs red along the sidewalk on his side of the street, as well as those on the Fourth Avenue median for several blocks in both directions. When Tecau asked him why he was out there with a brush and paint can while cars whizzed by, he replied that it was ugly and that he wanted to make it look better (which he did).

It appeared that DiBaggio lived alone in his four-story brick building, and by around 1990 he began to write in chalk on the outside, paint metal signs for display, and use objects such as family pictures (accompanied by chalk-written family histories), pulleys, globes, bird bath pedestals, smashed TV sets, sewing machines, and consumer-produced decorations to create temporary installations.  Often he would include a radio tuned to religious programming and leave it playing loudly all day and night. Tecau, who lived within earshot, recalls being occasionally awakened in the mornings by DiBaggio’s rantings from the street. I lived two blocks away, and, unpredictably, sometimes he would welcome the presence of my large 8x10 inch view camera (but never stayed in place long enough for me to get a portrait), while other times he would shout me away.

Periodically, Louis would disappear from sight, and rumors on the street were that he was away being treated in a VA hospital.  He would then re-appear after what seemed like a couple weeks, but would be less active and visible around his property. At those times, although his demeanor was much calmer, he seemed uninterested (or not capable) of two-way conversations. Eventually, it appeared likely that he was no longer taking his medicines, and the hyperactive street presence and installation work would resume until the disappearance cycle repeated.

In 1993 DiBaggio didn’t return from one of those disappearances, and his building was put up for sale. New York City records show it was sold through a Power of Attorney arrangement in 1994. It has since become an apartment building with a Chinese restaurant on the first floor, and there is no visual remnant of DiBaggio’s works. Neighborhood rumors hold that DiBaggio had been involuntarily institutionalized. Experiencing the raw emotional power of his work sparked my life-long personal interest in “outsider” artists, and helped re-define my understanding of authenticity in the arts.

~Fred Scruton

With thanks to my artist friend Troyan Tecau for his recollections from the neighborhood of Louis DiBaggio.





Map and site information

722 4th Avenue
Brooklyn, New York, United States
Latitude/Longitude: 40.661832 / -73.996935

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