JTF (just the facts): A total of 13 color photographs, unframed and pinned directly to the wall in the single room gallery space. All of the works are inkjet prints, made between 2019 and 2022. Physical sizes are 17×11, 19×13, or 31×21 inches (or the reverse), and the prints are available in editions of 5, 10, or 20. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: Urban environments are generally tough on animals. Almost by definition, large dense cities have been primarily designed with people in mind, and so the animals that take up residence in these paces are required to adapt to the environment, with their ultimate survival based on their Darwinian ability to reinvent themselves for life in the metropolis.
A tourist trip to the Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy, once provided the premier example of this kind of animal adaptation. Between visits to the Basilica and the Doge’s Palace, or a high-priced espresso at one of the outdoor cafes, tourists would be bombarded by flocks of pigeons in search of grain. At one time, many would stand with grain in their outstretched hands, and pigeons would land on their arms and heads, creating a memorable photo opportunity (at least for those less skittish about large flapping birds). And while the sale of grain was later banned because the pigeon population got out of hand, the birds long ago learned that if they were even a little bit patient (and persistent), food would consistently emerge from the crowds, providing reliable sustenance in an otherwise unforgiving environment.
Lucia Buricelli is a photographer who splits her time between New York and Milan, but as a native of Venice, she was of course aware of the continual presence (and nuisance) of this clichéd spectacle. An initial photograph she made of a pigeon perched on the fluffy head of woman (with her flash lit hair looking altogether like a natural dried shrub) likely catalyzed some unexpected creative ideas, and in the years since, Buricelli has intermittently followed a broader interest in animal life in urban places, making images of city-adapted animals around the world.
Feral animals scrounging out a life in the wilds of the city don’t exactly stop to pose, so many of Buricelli’s images have a snatched quality, like an uneasy confrontation (for both sides). Buricelli does her best to get up close and uses a strong flash, even in the day time, creating amplified moments of poppy brightness that catch the animals in unexpectedly exposed circumstances. Her eye has an edge of restrained comedy, where the strangely obvious is seen with a kind of attentively wry wonder.
While the images of the crown-like Venetian pigeon and a similarly regal white swan gliding across the colored distortions of the nearby waterways of Burano, Italy, have a kind of quiet grace, not so for the pictures of the animal inhabitants of New York – they face the hustle of the city with determined boldness, and are fighting for their lives just like everyone else. Buricelli first hits the classics, with a pigeon pecking at a small pizza (with a nod to the infamous rat with a New York slice viral video) and a raccoon sneaking from behind a park bench to grasp for a Coke, a straw sticking out of the can seemingly ready to offer the animal a sip. She then watches as the animals are put to work in two other New York scenes, with a black bodega cat prowling the shelves of snacks in search of mice, and a weary Central Park carriage ride horse sharing the road with a man in scrubs on a bike and a yellow taxi with a strip club ad on its roof. And inside the relative safety of the parks, the animal antics continue, with images of squirrels doing tricks on tree trunks for peanuts (literally) and a raccoon hanging off a fence with the knowing look of a regular performer.
Down in Key West, Florida, Buricelli tracks a group of savvy chickens as they navigate the big (really somewhat smaller) city. One peeks through the slats of a bench (as though caught), while another rushes right down the middle of the sidewalk, flanked by a red van that swooshes by with bright “Happy Day” exhortations on its sides. The picture with the most anthropomorphic weirdness in the show captures yet another chicken who has jumped up on a cushioned lounger, and who seems to be intently perusing a takeout menu left behind with a styrofoam container; Buricelli’s photograph gives the chicken the look of an intent guest, wondering what to order while relaxing in the sun. As smart adaptations go, ordering directly from the menu certainly beats digging through the dumpster.
While the subject matter here is light and fun, Buricelli’s wide eyed photographic aesthetic is applied consistently and with care, tying all of these disparate moments into one integrated body of work. If she has another 20 or so of these kinds of images tucked away in a storage box, she’s likely got the makings of a quirky little photobook or zine filled with contagious can-do energy. Otherwise, she may soon build a digital following with these images, as their fresh simplicity is the kind of thing that seems purpose built for impulsive sharing. Who knows, maybe as she’s watching the animals adapt, she’s adapting as well, turning a Coke-stealing raccoon into the approachable kind of photographic art that nearly every city dweller can relate to.
Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced at $400, $600, or $1200, based on size. Buricelli’s work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.