Matthew Pillsbury: City Stages @Bonni Benrubi

JTF (just the facts): A total of 12 black and white photographs, generally framed in black and matted, and hung in the main gallery space. The archival pigment ink prints each come in three sizes: 13×19 (edition of 20), 30×40 (edition of 10), and 50×60 (edition of 3); there is also one wider panoramic image shown in a 32×78 size (edition of 10). The images were taken in New York in 2011 and 2012. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: At this point in his photographic career, Matthew Pillsbury’s long exposure approach, complete with its wispy ephemeral figures, has become a kind of visual signature. From across a room, it’s easy to spot one of his works and think “OK, there’s a Pillsbury” and not really think more about it. I imagine this is both a blessing and a curse for the artist. The challenge is of course to both repeatedly find new subject matter that lends itself well to elapsed time picture making and to extend his recognizable visual motif in new directions.

Pillsbury’s recent photographs capture classic New York moments and locations without falling into the trap of seeming overly familiar or tired. His choices revel in movement: the spinning of the carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park, the chaos of the packed Jing Fong Dim Sum restaurant, the swinging band at Jazz at Lincoln Center with the headlights of Columbus Circle in the background, and the jumble of TV cameras and press on the roof of the Marriott Marquis on New Year’s Eve. Like 19th century spirit photographs, his images document the traces of people who are no longer there, who come and go, leaving behind only a ghostly trail of light; the city itself endures and is indifferent. While other images in this show have more obvious drama, my favorite was the photograph of the Occupy Wall Street protesters in Zucotti Park, who are reduced to a shifting, undulating pile of bags, tarps, and huddled people, underneath the quiet canopy of trees (on the right in the bottom installation shot).

It takes some artistic confidence to think that original images can still be made of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the World Trade Center light tribute, or the fountains in Washington Square Park. But Pillsbury pulls it off with surprising success, showing us facets of our city that are only visible when time is compressed.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced based on size, in ratcheting editions. The 13×19 prints range from $2200 to $3000, the 30×40 prints range from $5000 to $9000, and the 50×60 prints range from $10000 to $15000. The panoramic Above Times Square print is $10000 as shown in the “medium” size. Pillsbury’s work has started to become more available at auction in recent years, with prices ranging from roughly $2000 to $14000.

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JTF (just the facts): Published in 2020 by Many Voices Press (here). Hardcover, 9.125 x 12.5 inches, 160 pages, with 50 photographic reproductions (45 color, 5 black-and-white). In an edition ... Read on.

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