City limits: Marc Yankus brings to light the secret lives of New York’s buildings

City limits: Marc Yankus brings to light the secret lives of New York’s buildings

New York photographer Marc Yankus started shooting cityscapes in the late 1990s. Until recently, nearly all of his tightly-framed shots maintained a soft-focus, sometimes blurred aesthetic, multilayered with texture – as seen in the rough edges of the Manhattan skyline, the bleeding coronas of street lights and the smoky atmospheres inbetween.

’In 2013, I started to photograph images that were much sharper, hyperreal,’ says Yankus, who began shooting digitally in 2002. ’But I wanted to let go of the texture a bit so I started giving the buildings more breathing space and photographed the environment around it.’ That journey has led him to his latest series, ’The Secret Lives of Buildings’, which opened this week at ClampArt’s new space in West Chelsea.

’Barber Shop’, by Marc Yankus. Courtesy of the artist

The new works can be broken down into four camps: Manhattan icons (the Flatiron Building, the Ansonia, the EV Haughwout in SoHo); West Village townhouses and family stores; collages of mirrored or duplicated buildings (looking uptown from Macy’s or downtown from East 19th Street); and abstracted brick patches from structures bordering vacant lots. The latter represent Yankus’ first architectural photographs shot outside of Manhattan. (He’s previously made work at a lake in upstate New York and just got back from shooting in Antarctica for Smithsonian Magazine.)

At the gallery, images of the Flatiron, Ansonia EV Haughwout, an old Meatpacking District bank and a West Village barbershop will be shown as large 40 x 57 inch prints. The artist is most attracted to the images of Charles Street townhouses, the 19th Street mirrored image – whose empty city canyons could have been pulled from Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky – and a fraternal twinset of gothic mansions on 72nd Street and Riverside Drive. With the taxis, Ubers, buses, tourists, dogs and native New Yorkers all scrubbed from these crystalline cityscapes, the viewer is left to wonder what type of people reside, work, play, sleep, party and pair off behind these doors and windows. Imagine abstracted photographic analogues to David Schickler’s story collection Kissing in Manhattan and you’re halfway there.

When asked whether this cosmopolitan curiosity says more about the people living in these buildings or those wondering about them, Yankus can’t say. ’The show is called "The Secret Lives of Buildings"... if buildings had a consciousness, would they have stories to tell for the people who have lived there?’ he muses. ’It’s about us looking inward while looking at the structure that contains the stories.’

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