Imagine for a minute that you’ve found your dream Manhattan rental apartment. And for the purposes of this little thought experiment, say it’s in the one of most coveted, wealthiest neighborhoods in town, Tribeca. And you love your home and you’re just going about your life and then you go to an art exhibition and there on the wall is a photograph… of you! In your home! Taken through the window, via telephoto lens from someone who was obviously in an apartment across the street! Now, you can’t see your face, and there’s really no way anyone other than you would KNOW it was you, but still: how would you feel about that?
Lawsuits have been Considered over Privacy Rights as a Result of this Show
This exact situation recently presented itself to a group of Triceba-ites with the opening of a provocative art show at Chelsea’s Julie Saul Gallery, Arne Svenson: The Neighbors. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, the subjects of Svenson’s surreptitious photographs, residents of the luxurious, glass-walled Zinc Building, were none too happy. Lawsuits have been threatened. Criminal charges pondered.
But Svenson, who got the idea for the project after inheriting a high-powered telephoto lens, designed for birders, is unrepentant. “For my subjects there is no question of privacy,” says Svenson. “They are performing behind a transparent scrim on a stage of their own creation with the curtain raised high.” And because he never shows his neighbors’ full faces (the images in this post are a fair representation of the level of revealed identity), most experts believe that Svenson’s show is perfectly legal, if perhaps not so neighborly.
A Number of the Photographs have a Painting-like Quality to Them
But beyond the of-the-moment privacy issues involved in Arne Svenson: The Neighbors, how does the exhibition stand up as art? All I can tell you is that I really liked most of these pieces. The photographs are heavily processed to look almost painterly, and Svenson has a really nice feel for color and light (one reviewer compared the look to the likes of Vermeer and Hopper). The compositions, too, are pretty great, revealing just enough in each shot to suggest a story, with odd details and hints of secrets. And, of course, The Neighbors can’t help but appeal to your inner voyeur. We all look through windows in the city, catching glimpses of other people’s homes and lives, but we know not to linger. Here at Julie Saul Gallery, you can stare as long as you like.
Arne Svenson: The Neighbors will be at Julie Saul Gallery through June 29. Julie Saul is located at 535 West 22nd Street (between 10th and 11th Avenues), on the 6th floor, and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. More info here. Coincidentally, right next door also at 535 on the 6th floor is exhibition of photographs by one of my long-time favorite artists Laurel Nakadate, who knows a thing or two about flirting with voyeurism.
That show, called Relations (the conceit is this: Nakadate found distant relatives around the country via DNA testing, and too their picture right after meeting them for the first time) at Leslie Tonkonow, also runs through June 29. Find out more here.