Danny Lyon,  Wall of the Saint George Building , 1966-67.

Danny Lyon, Wall of the Saint George Building, 1966-67.

Danny Lyon: The Destruction of Lower Manhattan

The Cleveland Museum of Art

FRONT INTERNATIONAL: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art

Walking around New York, sometimes one feels as if they are being chased by some spectral Pac Man voraciously devouring whole neighborhoods behind you.  It’s not such a new phenomenon.  The destruction of Penn Station in the mid-1960’s put citizens on alert that their city was being subverted.  Ada Louis Huxtable rang the warning bells prompting a surge of interest in urban renewal.  Today one has only to walk the High Line and witness the development of Hudson Yards to marvel at what has been happening. 

 

In the mid 1960’s Danny Lyon, the Magnum photographer, took note of this on his own, bearing witness to the wholesale elimination of his downtown neighborhood, 24 city blocks or 60 acres of buildings below Canal Street.   He wrote, “The passing of buildings was for me a great event. It didn’t matter so much whether they were of architectural importance. What mattered to me was that they were about to be destroyed. Whole blocks would disappear. An entire neighborhood.”

 

“The Destruction of Lower Manhattan” was originally published in book form by Macmillan in 1969.  A 2nd edition was published by powerHouse Books in 2005 in conjunction with an exhibition at the Museum of the City fo New York.

 

The Cleveland Museum with curator Barbara Tannenbaum has an installation of 52 great prints organized as part of FRONT, the 1st Cleveland International Triennial. 

 

The pictures are very, very well done; they look great.  Lyon demonstrates amazing range.  The architectural images have strict verticals and horizontals with an incredibly sustained focus, clearly sighting the mix of surfaces.  He has an archaeologist’s sensitivity to the layering of time, enhanced by the play of blacks and whites and grays   At the same time, he allows for the human presence, with environmental portraits of workers and street work of kids, looking like post-war European street urchins.  The whole thing feels timeless, simultaneously classic and contemporary like a sad journey through the ruins of Aleppo.

 

You slow down your looking to move through the show, taking time as your eye deconstructs what has already been destroyed. 

 

A lovely detail to note is that the collection was gifted to the museum in 2012 by George Stephanopoulos.  Good gift.

 

Chilling and gorgeous.