New York Public Library 

Eminent Domain

These six New York-based artists explore blurry borders between the city’s public and private space. Four photographers document private citizens’ tactics for reconciling personal and urban activities, another navigates the border between municipal bureaucracy and urban fringes, and the last recounts his personal journey around the city through apartments and areas.

Zoe Leonard’s series Analogue takes after Eugene Atget’s photographs of Parisian storefronts in the early 20th century. She immortalizes today’s disappearing window displays of old-New York retailers and the city’s clothing industry on the Lower East Side and in parts of Brooklyn. In Untitled/This is just to say, Ethan Levitas uses elevated subway cars in Brooklyn and Queens as his own widescreen storytelling settings, capturing poetic moments of unsettling coincidence, stolen glances and intense emotion. Thomas Holton’s series The Lams of Ludlow Street focuses on the titular Chinatown family and their adaptive use of a cramped apartment. Window by Reiner Leist offers a private diary of public space: the photographer’s daily snapshots of Lower Manhattan from his apartment for over ten years. The exhibition’s only glaring faux-pas comes in this series, where the investigation of public and private claims to urban space is abandoned in favor of the morbid voyeurism afforded by Leist’s view of the World Trade Center towers (and their subsequent disappearance from his daily photos). Where the rest of the show challenges viewers, this decision is an unfortunate capitulation on behalf of the curators to the lowest common denominator.

In borough edges, nyc Bettina Johae traces the official boundaries of the city as accurately as public accessibility allowed her. Images from these blighted fringes alternately reveal industrial waste, household trash and natural splendor. Glenn Ligon’s diary-like narrative of different apartments and neighborhoods he’s lived in – including two moves motivated by eminent domain disputes – recurs throughout the show. These paragraph entries offer a mix of private and public insights, and provide text-based relief between the outstanding but dense photo series.

Concentrated in the New York Public Library Bryant Park building’s main exhibition space, fragments from each series are peppered throughout the building. This stroke of curatorial creativity ensures that issues broached in the gallery will extend to other areas, leading viewers to keep engaging the public/private divide as it plays out in different spaces. Similarly, the solicitation of viewer input on the library website means attendees can continue to address the ownership of urban space on their own terms.

Closes 8/29.
Tue-Wed 11am to 7:30pm, Thu-Sat 11am to 6pm. Fifth Ave at 42nd St, 212-930-0830, nypl.org

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