Thursday, February 19, 2009

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK photos of Ray Mortenson

I came across artist Ray Mortenson through his show at the Museum of the City of New York, where I worked for all of two days about 16 years ago. Those were the days when nobody in photography had yet really discovered 601 west 25th street and its amazing size loft spaces, the museum used a space the size of a football field just to store extra art. Which brings me to said Mr Mortenson's exhibition at one of our most underrated Museums. Broken Glass, photographs from the South Bronx, are images taken between 1982-1984. This is the era right when I arrived from Ireland, all googly eyed about the city. The images are an amazing document of a city in the throes of guess what, a social and economic crisis. The heart of the Regan years. So to say this show is prescient might be hyperbole but..... The then city, still struggling to regain its footing after the Blackout of '77 and the "Drop Dead" from President Ford, has never looked so desolate. Ray's work focuses on the miles of post apocalyptic neighborhoods, drained of almost any human nurturing, the poster child for urban decay. The buildings seem to stare back at you, the windows just empty eye sockets, black holes. The once proud brownstones, rooftops, facades demoralized past recognition. Snake Plisskin was not that far off. My first subway ride in NYC was from West 4th street to 205 street in the Bronx. I took the local at rush hour in the middle of September. Air conditioning!!! what air conditioning, the windows were open weren't they. I remember distinctly, being jammed into the car but able to see out the window, the shells, remnants, of what used to be neighborhoods, block after block. I didn't know the politics, but I did know it scared the shit out of me. No wonder nobody went to Yankee stadium. Of course I was on the wrong train and didn't realize till I got to the wrong destination, the mantra "take the 5 stay alive, take the 4 dead for sure" playing in my head. Which brings me back to the work. If anyone feels that they have a handle on New York, masters of their own universe, good for you, but take a trip to MCNY and have a gander at a time when the "capitol of the world" was becoming an also ran in its own country, one step ahead of the bank. A collection of the beautiful and mournful images in one of our saddest times.

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