Bright, sterile rooms are all too familiar as the backdrop of art exhibitions – New York, London, Paris, it doesn’t matter – and I feel as though we all dogmatically accept art as having no other company than a blank white wall. Sad, I know, but incredibly true. However, for the first time while at Lynne Cohen’s exhibit “Occupying Territory 1971-1988” at Higher Pictures on the Upper East Side, I felt as though the plainness of the gallery actually helped to accentuate and highlight her black and white photographs.
Her photographs are simple. The gallery is simple. It makes digesting the artwork, well, simple. And through the expert minimalism of the exhibit, nostalgia, humor, and both emotional and aesthetic admiration are easily felt. I literally belted out an audible laugh when I saw one of Cohen’s photographs which captures a series of mounted trophies of wild game in what appears to be a public school stairwell that could only exist in some antiquated southern town that is slowly and hesitantly embracing the modern world. This lifeless photograph at once conjured up images, personalities, and an entire history of a town I could only imagine, but that this photograph proved really existed.
Where Did All the People Go?
The remaining photographs are equally as entrancing as they display simple but effective scenes of desks, offices, and other culturally identifiable locations from the era such as a roller rink, a paintball facility, and a small, underwhelming ballroom (likely in the meeting room of a hotel somewhere). All of these locations symbolize popular meeting points, and yet, there are no people in any of Cohen’s photographs – which could make them seem a bit boring or unsettling even. While these may not sound like the most awe-inspiring images and are void of actual human presence, it is the warmth and comfort they offered me that created an inviting feeling to what would otherwise be a rather austere gallery.
Having only been born at the cut-off of Cohen’s exhibition, in 1988, I thought her scenes would appear alien to me; however, her portraits of empty space gave me access to a nostalgia from a time that I have never known; to create that feeling in someone is the effect of truly powerful art. Whether you remember the times and images represented in Cohen’s artwork or not, they will undoubtedly spark memories real or imagined that will make you feel like you’re physically occupying the empty space in front of you.
- Higher Pictures Lynne Cohen “Occupied Territory 1971 – 1988″ – November 10th – December 8th 2012. (Price Range of Artworks: nyc-artparasites estimates $500 – 2,000)