JTF (just the facts): A total of 49 black and white photographs, framed in black and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the North and South gallery spaces. All of the works are vintage gelatin silver prints, made between 1950 and 1975. The prints are sized between 11×11 and 13×17, with most roughly 11×14 or reverse. No edition information was provided on the checklist. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: Following on the heels of 2010 exhibits at the Met and Howard Greenberg (reviews of both linked below), this show continues the methodical reemergence and reconsideration of the work of Leon Levinstein. At this point, Levinstein’s talent for capturing the funky diversity of 1960s and 1970s New York street life is decently well known, so what we have here is more of a deepening of this now familiar story, via another selection of energetic sidewalk pictures.
Levinstein is perhaps best known for his undeniably keen eye for the quirks of personal fashion, and this show has plenty of gems from this genre, covering the spectrum from a sleek white blazer to dirty work coveralls. Women in patterned dresses strut down the street like it was a catwalk, and men unabashedly turn to check out the action. Skew camera angles freeze effusive hand gestures mid motion, whether from suit wearing businessmen or a screaming woman in front of a pizza joint. A trio of pictures focus on the angles of men’s feet: perched on a fire hydrant, pulled up on a lamp post, or crossed leaning against a railing. And a group of stately women’s faces recall Lisette Modell, with fur coats, dark hats, and veils (and even one chihuahua), framing stoic upper class wrinkles.
This particular edit also brings in a broader sample of local neighborhoods, getting beyond the swagger and grit of Times Square: couples lounging on the beach at Coney Island, serious nuns from the Lower East Side, grim faced workers from Harlem, and wide eyed street boys from Brooklyn. It also discovers plenty of unlikely city moments: a man with a pack of stray cats, a girl in a tutu following a nun, two older ladies talking though a window with Jesus underneath, a smiling family posing in front of a wall of psychedelic op art posters, and men slumbering in the shade under a scrawl of Fuck the Pigs.
All in, this is a solid sampler of Levinstein’s street photography; not perhaps his most notable or recognizable images, but a worthwhile extension and addition to the larger ongoing education process surrounding his rightful place in photographic history.
Collector’s POV: The prints in the show range in price from $6000 to $11000. In recent years, Levinstein’s work has only been sporadically available in the secondary markets, with prices ranging between roughly $1000 and $9000.