This stinging, typically smart if a bit dry group show at Orchard looks at art, the Lower East Side neighborhood, and the gallery itself. It examines some of the effects that gentrification has had here over the last 100 years, and how this now-hip gallery might be contributing to the situation.
The work on view reads like a memento mori and an evidence file. Whether you call this art taxonomical, indexical, evidentiary, or just cataloging, it expresses strong emotions about place and time. Fifty-two-year-old German photographer Petra Wunderlich presents 12 black-and-white photographs, all the same size, all shot on the Lower East Side, of former and current synagogues. She’s a later-day Atget documenting the disappearing city by way of the just-the-facts Bechers. The pictures show how buildings are boarded up, graffitied over, even converted into Buddhist temples. Zoë Leonard presents 12 color dye transfer prints of idiosyncratic Lower East Side storefronts. In little display windows we see piles of sweaters, furniture, and fabric samples, as well as signs for cold beer and tax/divorce lawyers. It’s a form of installation and folk art that also touches on the survival of the weakest.
The canny organizer of this show, Christian Philipp Muller, 49, plans to give walking tours of the neighborhood in which he’ll highlight artists’ homes, including the domiciles of Dan Graham, Milton Resnick, and Ken Jacobs. Jacobs himself has three amazing film trailers on view in the gallery. One of them offers footage shot in the 1950s and offers the saint of the Lower East Side himself, Jack Smith, wearing cellophane angel wings as he zips around an unsuspecting passerby.
The weird thing about this show is that it makes you see the world through a slow-motion lens. You glean how certain neighborhoods— especially this one–are slipping away and turning into something different. It also makes you realize that as a viewer at Orchard you’re a part of that process.