What is one to make of Fotografiska New York, billed as a museum of photography as well as a gourmet dining and event space housed in a brilliantly renovated landmark building on Park Avenue South?
Brought to us by Swedish brothers, Per and Jan Broman, who in 2010 launched their hugely successful, privately funded non-traditional photo enterprise in Stockholm, and who have been expanding their “brand” ever since, first in Estonia and now in New York (with London and Shanghai coming up), Fotografiska reflects the explosion of a medium that has gone from esoteric to mass market in less than 50 years. One might even say it embodies a “lifestyle” that rejects an academic approach to art for one that incorporates food, drink, pictures, and play under one roof.
The roof, in this case, is a beautifully renovated neo-Gothic structure that, inside and out, appears to be dedicated to old-fashioned beauty, from gorgeous flower arrangements to dramatically lit vaulted ceilings. This is not MoMA’s “less is more” modernism. This is Viennese coffee with whipped cream on top.
The theme of turn-of-the-century elegance and pleasure is especially evident on the 2nd floor restaurant, Veronika (the patron saint of photographers). With candles, flowers, low lighting and high ceilings, entering this space is like walking onto the world’s most romantic movie set. My friend and I were overwhelmed by the gorgeousness of the space and kept saying to each other, “This is so European.” And so unexpected. We can’t wait to dine there. The menu appears to be reasonably priced.
There are four exhibition floors, each radically different from the other. The 6th floor — with a stage, and groupings of sofas and chairs for informal gathering spots — has been renovated to open up the building’s attic ceiling. It’s a lovely and unexpected touch. On view, through March (as are all the exhibitions scheduled to change every three months), is the photography of rock ‘n roll photographer Danny Clinch. Based in Asbury Park, his images of Bruce Springsteen are particularly memorable.
The 5th Floor is given over to an exhibition, “Thirty Years of Photographing Women,” an amalgam of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll images, taken by commercial German artist Ellen von Unwerth, best known for her sensual Guess campaign. It may be her view of female liberation – female photographer aiming her lens at undressed, uninhibited females – but, in my view, these exhibitionist fantasies and fetishes appear woefully dated. They no longer shock which, one assumes, was their raison d’etre in the first place.
The next two floors highlight traditional photographers doing serious work. Helene Schmitz, in the Salgado tradition, focuses on despoiled landscapes and produces some massively impressive images of nature ruined by everything from mining and dams to fire and invasive kudzu. She calls it “Thinking Like a Mountain.” In this year of climate calamities, it’s a highly relevant and riveting exhibition.
On the same floor is “Inheritance,” by Tawny Chatmon, a series of sumptuous color portraits by a self-taught African American photographer who manipulates and embellishes her images of children – often her own — using gold-leaf, paint and patterns that are openly evocative of Austrian artist Gustav Klimt’s gold-embossed “Portrait of a Lady.” Her work, framed in an old-fashioned manner worthy of a Manet, conveys her intention to dignify black beauty, especially black children’s beauty, and to create a visual “inheritance” for the black community. She succeeds, successfully melding Viennese and African symbols of wealth and elegance, and bringing them forward in a fresh way into the contemporary world.
On the 3rd floor is “Testament,” a series of images by an Israeli photographer, Adi Nes. His mostly oversized images of Israeli soldiers, address issues of homoerotic masculinity and beauty in powerful ways. His “Last Supper,” (above), is the embodiment of chutzpa and I can’t seem to get it out of my head.
“Other People’s Children,” by Anastasia Taylor-Lind focuses on “Caregiving in New York.” A visual narrative underwritten by Time Magazine, Taylor Lind embedded herself in daycare centers and other places where childcare solutions for working mothers are found. Though a story worthy telling and one that most women can relate to, only a few of the images are memorable in a gallery setting.
Fotografiska’s goal, according to its brochure, is “to inspire a more conscious world through the power of photography. We showcase the greatest photographers, whether they’re emerging artists or already established internationally.”
Whether it achieves that goal and catches on with New York’s sophisticated public will be fascinating to watch. It’s certainly worth a visit. Then, you can decide for yourself.
Opening Photo | Fotografiska New York
Fotografiska — Park Avenue South at 22nd Street
Sunday – Wednesday: 9 – 11PM
Thursday – Saturday: 9 — Midnight
Adults $28 (members free); Students with ID $18; Seniors (62+) $18