The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

Empty Pleasures
Duane Michals
Empty New York
Photo by Duane Michals . Source:
Duane Michals, "Empty New York" c. 1964

Cities are surely the ultimate in transitional spaces, with all their chance encounters, risks, and pleasures. New York was my transitional space, in what one likes to call growing up, and so it was for Duane Michals around 1964. His Empty New York shares its emptiness with Mark Innerst at the same gallery. Michals offers a seemingly quainter city than the painter’s broad avenues barreling into depth. Yet his photographs take one past skyscraper canyons and early twentieth-century conventions. The thirty prints capture real spaces, without the exaggeration of thick sunlight, and a real moment in time.

Photo by Duane Michals . Source:
Duane Michals, "Empty New York, c. 196" 1964

New York then still had cul-de-sacs, Hook and Ladder Companies, and the majestic Penn Station. Diners had jukeboxes, and subway cars had rattan seats. Graffiti had not taken over—or taken on the cachet of street art. Michals could look at empty barber chairs, empty tables, and a dry cleaner’s promise of same-day pressing and know that they were waiting for customers, perhaps him.

“Everything was theatre,” the gallery quotes him as saying (with that old-world spelling). “Even the most ordinary event was an act in the drama of my little life.”

Photo by Duane Michals . Source:
Duane Michals, "Empty New York" 1964

He found inspiration, too, in the Paris of Eugène Atget, its shops boasting of desires. Still, he must have known that America was on the cusp of change: the Beatles and war had arrived, the crowds on the Coney Island roller coaster become rowdier. He did not have to show the freaks and flagrant pleasures of Gary Winogrand and Diane Arbus to know that emptiness is only a transition. He has clean contrasts in place of Atget’s warm shadows, and the repeated objects within his compositions have as much to do with late Modernism’s formal strictures as consumerism and private fetishes.

His white borders may not be so far from Innerst’s thick wooden frames after all, with each print signed. Without traveling half the world, he could stand at a distance and know the strange comforts of day-to-day life.

Duane Michals
Empty New York

DC Moore Gallery
535 W 22nd St. 2nd Fl
Chelsea         Map

212 247 2111

Thursday, April 24 to
Saturday, May 31, 2014
Hours: Tue-Sat 10 to 6

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