Archive for July 22, 2007

“Making The Scene: The Midtown Y Photography Gallery, 1972-1996” Exhibition at the NY Public Library through 9/16

When traveling to NYC this summer to catch the incredible wealth of exhibitions on view, do not miss this one! From the NYPL website (don’t miss RELATED EVENTS towards the bottom):

“Vibrant Photographs from Archives of Influential New York City Gallery Celebrated in Exhibition at The New York Public Library.

Making the Scene: The Midtown Y Photography Gallery, 1972-1996 on view from April 27 to September 16, 2007.

The pioneering gallery that offered photographers an opportunity to publicly exhibit their work during a period in which few galleries showed photography at all, will be honored with an exhibit of its own at The New York Public Library’s Humanities and Social Sciences Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street from April 27 to September 16, 2007. Making the Scene: The Midtown Y Photography Gallery, 1972-1996 features over 160 photographic prints from the Midtown Y Photography Gallery Archive, bequeathed to The New York Public Library in 1998.

Photographs in Making the Scene represent a diverse range of topics, but many of them capture the raw urban sensibility of New York in the era directly before parts of the city were transformed by gentrification and upscale development. Photographs such as those in Sy Rubin’s 14th St. series show buildings, restaurants, and stores that no longer exist and capture the gritty street life and colorful characters of neighborhoods stretching from the East River to the Hudson. Michael Uffer’s 1980 print shows the raucous energy of a live rock show, and Arthur Tress’s spirited photograph captures the marvel of three silhouetted boys suspended on top of a batting cage. The dawn of AIDS, the vital Jewish population on the Lower East Side, and a variety of public protests are among the subjects that are threaded throughout the works displayed, especially those exhibited during the gallery’s first decade.

“The works displayed in Making the Scene reveal new sensibilities that were coming to the fore in the work of the emerging artists the gallery showcased,” said David Ferriero, the Andrew W. Mellon Director and Chief Executive of The Research Libraries. “They capture the adventurous spirit of the era in which they were taken and are an invaluable resource at the Library for researchers exploring those times. ”

Stephen C. Pinson, the Robert B. Menschel Curator of Photography and organizer of the exhibition comments, “Today, photography is obtaining record prices at auction and, simultaneously, long-standing photography galleries are expanding their inventories to include other media. These are signs that we have reached a kind of ‘second wave’ of photography’s entrance and acceptance into the contemporary art world. From this perspective, we are now in a better position to appreciate the role and contribution of the Midtown Y Photography Gallery, which helped claim for photography the position it has enjoyed for the past two decades.”

The Midtown Y Photography Gallery, founded in 1972 by Larry Siegel with the help of Robert Menschel, was the first nonprofit organization in New York City with a mission to provide a public space for the display of photographs, helping the careers of dozens of photographers from 1972 to 1996. Prior to the 1980s, very few galleries showed photography exclusively, and emerging photographers were faced with limited options for exhibiting their work outside museums. This exhibition offers a broader vision of the photography that was seen during the period in which photography became a mainstay of the art world, as well as an intimate portrait of one New York gallery.

Photographers whose work is featured in this exhibition include David Attie, Niki Berg, Dawoud Bey, Roy Colmer, Nathan Farb, Larry Fink, John Ganis, Robert Giard, Bruce Gilden, Arlene Gottfried, Ed Grazda, Linda Hackett, Peter Hujar, Sid Kaplan, Arthur Leipzig, Joan Liftin, Ari Marcopoulos, John Messina, Abelardo Morell, Larry Siegel, Aaron Siskind, Sage Sohier, Michael Spano, Louis Stettner, Neil Trager, Arthur Tress, Susan Unterberg, William E. Williams, and many more .

The exhibition is divided into three sections: (1) a retrospective survey of photographers who showed individual bodies of work during the two major phases of the gallery’s life, 1972-1982 and 1983-1996, respectively; (2) a selection of photographs drawn from some of the gallery’s large group exhibitions; and (3) a significant group of Sy Rubin’s photographs from 14th St., a project sponsored by the Midtown Y in 1981. In addition, on the four walls that anchor the corners of the hall, smaller sections entitled “Negotiations” provide information about how the gallery handled a medium in transition, covering topics such as community involvement, the role of gender, the rise of color photography, historical awareness, and the alternative and mainstream scenes for photography. Finally, a “screening room” presents a slide show that showcases in more depth the work of many of the photographers who exhibited at the Midtown Y.

On View 1972-1982 and 1983-1996

During its first decade, the Midtown Y Gallery occasionally showed historical photographs as well as the work of more established photographers (opening with exhibitions by W. Eugene Smith and Berenice Abbott), but the emphasis was on showing and promoting the work of emerging artists who could not find representation elsewhere. This dedication was solidified during the second decade of the gallery’s existence. For many photographers, these shows constituted their first “solo” exhibitions in New York City; for others, it was the first time they publicly exhibited their work. In 1993, the gallery moved from the Midtown Y to the Educational Alliance at 197 East Broadway. Tighter administrative controls at the new location, the appearance of new venues for photographers, and increased competition for state and national funding resulted in the closing of the gallery in 1996.

Featured in this section are gems like David Attie’s studio portrait of three models holding their open portfolios; Bruce Gilden’s humorous print of a woman with a very tan chest sunbathing; and Nathan Farb’s fascinatingly strange image of a man and a woman wearing bathing suits and sitting in a wicker loveseat eating corn-on-the-cob. Works by John Ganis, Susan Unterberg, Linda Hackett and others show the increased interest in color photography during the late 1970s-1980s, whereas an early photograph by Abelardo Morell hints at his later fascination with the imprint of light in camera obscura.

Group Shows

During its first decade, the Midtown Y Photography Gallery organized a number of exhibitions built around specific themes, frequently related to New York City and concerning social and/or historical themes, and for which the gallery issued open calls to photographers. For example, featured in the exhibition celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Brooklyn Bridge is Toby Old’s arresting photograph of a totaled car against the eerie backdrop of the bridge at night.

Other exhibitions were broader in scope. The gallery’s largest group exhibition, Coming of Age in America (1973), examined what director Larry Siegel called a “deep seated cultural and economic problem in our country,” which he defined as the antagonism between the “great, yet empty overvaluing of youth and things youthful and the equally great yet empty undervaluing of aging and the aged.” The original exhibition included almost 170 works by 38 photographers, and marked one of the first public exhibitions by Peter Hujar, whose particularly striking portrait of a sullen-looking older man in clownface, the creases of his age amplifying the dark, bold lines of the makeup, is a highlight of Making the Scene .

14th Street

Sy Rubin and Larry Siegel’s 14th St. demonstrates the enduring vitality of street photography (a well-established genre in New York beginning with the influential work of William Klein and Robert Frank in the 1950s) into the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Sponsored by the Midtown YM-YWHA, and funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and the J.M. Kaplan Fund, the 14th St. project documented the longest crosstown street in Manhattan, which was then considered the dividing line between downtown and midtown. Although much of the essence of 14th Street remains today, many of the once-familiar places Rubin and Siegel captured in the series have since disappeared. In the exhibition, visitors will see sites such as May’s Department Store, now the location of a Whole Foods Market; and L├╝chow’s restaurant, the Palladium, and Julian’s Billiards, which have been replaced by buildings owned by New York University. On the west side, the meatpacking district has experienced an even more dramatic transformation and is now home to high-end fashion boutiques and trendy restaurants.

Sy Rubin took the photographs on view here between 1979 and 1981 and donated them to the permanent collection of the Midtown Y Photography Gallery. They are presented in the original exhibition order designated by Rubin.

Items in “Making the Scene” are drawn from the Midtown Y Photography Gallery Archive, bequeathed to The New York Public Library in 1998, and housed in the Photography Collection of The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, and in the Manuscripts and Archives Division.

The exhibition is accompanied by a four-color illustrated publication, featuring an essay written by Stephen C. Pinson, a timeline of important events in photography during the Midtown Y Photography Gallery’s lifetime, and the complete exhibition history of the gallery, published for the first time. Published by The New York Public Library, it is available in paperback at The Library Shop (

Docent Tours

Free public tours of this exhibition are conducted Tuesday through Saturday at 12:30 and 2:30 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:30 p.m. (the Library will be closed on Sundays from May 27 through September 2). Groups of ten or more people must make reserved group tour arrangements; call 212.930.0501. Reserved group tour fees are $7 per person ($5 for seniors); there is no charge for full-time students.

Free Public Programs

Seating for these programs is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Lecture: From Marginal to Mainstream: Photography’s ‘Alternative’ History

Celeste Bartos Education Center, South Court Auditorium
Humanities and Social Sciences Library, Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street
Wednesday, May 23 at 6 p.m.; repeated Wednesday, July 25 at 3:15 p.m.

Exhibition curator Stephen C. Pinson will give an illustrated lecture focusing on the history of the Midtown Y Photography Gallery.

About The Photography Collection

The Photography Collection of The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs comprises approximately 400,000 photographs, including examples of almost every photographic process from the earliest daguerreotypes to contemporary digital images.

The Photography Collection was developed in 1980 when images culled from other NYPL departments and branches were brought together to form a new division. The historically stated focus of the collection has been “documentary photography,” a term originally coined in the 1930s to describe the work of photographers who attempted to document specific social conditions. The Photography Collection, which has significant holdings in this area, actually encompasses a much broader range of the medium, including images made for commercial, industrial, and scientific application as well as images for the press and other print media, the vernacular of amateur snapshot photography, and original works intended for exhibition and/or the art market.

Future collection activity and development will focus on fulfilling the department’s role as the most accessible public resource in New York City for the study of photographs and the history of photography.

About The New York Public Library

The New York Public Library was created in 1895 with the consolidation of the private libraries of John Jacob Astor and James Lenox with the Samuel Jones Tilden Trust. The Library provides free and open access to its physical and electronic collections and information, as well as to its services. It comprises four research centers – The Humanities and Social Sciences Library; The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts; the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; and the Science, Industry and Business Library – and 86 Branch Libraries in Manhattan, Staten Island, and the Bronx. Research and circulating collections combined total more than 50 million items. In addition, each year the Library presents thousands of exhibitions and public programs, which include classes in technology, literacy, and English as a second language. The New York Public Library serves over 15 million patrons who come through its doors annually and another 21 million users internationally, who access collections and services through its website,

Making the Scene: The Midtown Y Photography Gallery, 1972-1996 will be on view from April 27 through September 16, 2007 in the Samuel D. and Jeane H. Gottesman Exhibition Hall at The New York Public Library’s Humanities and Social Sciences Library, located at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan. Exhibition hours are Tuesday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-7:30 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, 1-5 p.m. Closed Mondays; Sundays from May 27 through September 2; and the following days: Saturday, May 26 and Saturday, September 1. For more information on hours, current and upcoming exhibitions, programs, and services at The New York Public Library, call 212.869.8089 or visit the Library’s website at

Support for this exhibition has been provided by Robert B. Menschel: The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation and by The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

Support for The New York Public Library’s Exhibitions Program has been provided by Celeste Bartos, Mahnaz I. and Adam Bartos, Jonathan Altman, and Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III.”


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