Bohemian artists going strong in East Vil.
BY BOB KRASNER
You can count Ruth and Valery Oisteanu
among the lucky ones. Still married after 46
years, still making art and still living in the
East Village apartment they moved into in 1975.
When they met by chance on the street in Israel,
they had already beat the odds. Ruth had been
raised from infancy in NYC but was born to Holocaust
survivors in a Displaced Persons camp in
Germany. Valery had recently escaped Communist
Romania (by way of Italy) when they connected in
1972. Though Ruth went home and Valery traveled
through Europe, they were reunited in NYC a year
later, married in a few months and began life together
on the Upper East Side.
Thanks to their friend John Evans, a collage
artist in the East Village, they found their home
on Second Avenue. The two-bedroom apartment
wasn’t in great shape and the neighborhood was,
according to Ruth, “pretty awful!” She explained,
“There were junkies on every corner, drug dealers
on every other corner and hookers in between the
“We took the place as is,” said Valery. “No new
paint, nothing. We filled the place with
street furniture, art and mannequins. We
funked it up!”
“You didn’t go east after sunset,” noted
Ruth, “but the neighborhood was full
of energy, art and crazy people. It was
a great place to live.” It probably didn’t
hurt that their spacious digs had a rent of
less than $300. The landlord, they said,
was happy to have “normal tenants.”
For 34 years, Ruth drove to the Bronx
to teach at a public school (first grade,
PHOTO BY BOB KRASNER
The living room/dining room of Ruth and Valery Oisteanu.
then English as a second language) while Valery curated
art shows, wrote poetry, created collages and
wrote about the art scene for “Soho Arts Weekly”
(which became “Cover Arts”) in the 80’s, “NY Arts
” in the 90’s and “The Brooklyn Rail” in the 2000’s.
He was, briefly, in a classroom as well, teaching science
and art. “As far as elementary school went,
he wasn’t teacher material,” explained Ruth. “He
should have been working at college level.”
Ruth Oisteanu and Valery Oisteanu at home.
PHOTO BY BOB KRASNER
Art from friends, mementos, and
their own art mix are everywhere
in the apartment of Ruth and Valery
Ruth, who has two master’s degrees,
was also creating art. She considers her
collage work “a hobby,” but she has an
impressive portfolio of work behind
her. Also a jewelry maker, she has seen her
beadwork exhibited at the Museum of Art
and Design, among other places.
The pair participated fully in the East
Village art world of the 80’s. The legendary
music scene figured in as well.
“Danceteria, Mudd Club, whatever was
happening, we were out there!” says Ruth.
Not just a visual artist, Valery has been writing
and reciting his poetry since his days in Romania.
The Acker Award-winning author has produced
more than a dozen books (in English), some venturing
into short fiction and collage. Not content with
the written word, Valery frequently makes use of
his booming voice to perform his work, sometimes
to the accompaniment of live music. Back in the
PHOTO BY BOB KRASNER
day, on stage at the Pyramid, he coined the word
“Jazzoetry” to describe his performance.
When not at home at their bohemian digs, which
were frequently the site of art shows, salon-style
gatherings, recitations, dinner parties, concerts,
and who knows what else, they made a point of
traveling when they could. Not content to just take
snapshots, they shot video that went beyond the
usual tourist subject matter.
In Bali, they “got into a wedding ceremony, a
cremation ceremony, a tooth filing ceremony,” relates
Ruth. A two and a half hour documentary,
“Rhythms and Rituals of Bali,” was the result. It
ended up being a very popular item when it was
shown on Romanian TV.
These days, the couple lives in a neighborhood
that is very different from the one they moved
into, and the apartment has changed as well. They
bought the place when it went co-op in the late 80’s
and watched the streets begin to clean up in the
90’s. Forced by a burst pipe to renovate in 2003,
they stayed at the Chelsea Hotel for a couple of
months while their found furniture became history
and bookcases designed by Ruth were installed.
The guest room became a studio. Art, a mix of
their own and their prominent friends, still fills the
rooms and family photos mingle with inspirational
Valery sums up how they view the East Village
now. “Although we have a bit of a bland corporate
invasion,” he muses, “we still have a fabulous community
of writers, performers, filmmakers and artists.”
Ruth and Valery Oisteanu will be participating
in a group art show, “Unseen” at the Theater For
The New City, 155 1st Ave. which began on Nov.
4th running to Jan. 2nd, with a reception on Nov.
13th from 5:30 – 8:00 p.m.
Valery Oisteanu has a solo show up now at the
Ottendorfer Library. He will be giving a talk about
the work on November 30th from 2:00 – 4:00 p.m.
Schneps Media November 7, 2019 15