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‘Roy Colmer: Doors’ Opens at the Lisson Gallery

DVS Project

‘Roy Colmer: Doors’ Opens at the Lisson Gallery

In an expansive presentation of Roy Colmer’s seminal Doors, NYC (1975–1976) project, NYC’s Lisson Gallery marked the first ever comprehensive presentation of this monumental photographic project, with significant sections having previously been exhibited at PS1 and the New York Public Library.

After beginning his career as a painter at the prominent Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Hamburg, Germany, Colmer abandoned the medium and his preferred method of deployment, the spray gun, just ten years after graduation, and by 1975 he worked exclusively in photography and film. Doors, NYC is both his most expansive and his most recognized series.

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From November of 1975 to September of 1976, Colmer photographed the doors of every building, shop and restaurant he encountered, rendering his adopted hometown of New York City in a sequential but not strictly exhaustive manner–given that the occasional chain-link fence makes an appearance among the more traditional entry ways. He covered 120 intersections and streets across more than 3,000 images, all of which will be on view at Lisson, from areas ranging from Fort Washington to Wall Street and everywhere in between.

While the photographs could initially be perceived as documentary in nature, recording the state of each block at a given moment without a predetermined path or objective, Colmer saw each image as part of a greater conceptual exercise. After each day’s outing, he inscribed the trajectory of every journey and city block in an index–noting whether he had captured the north or south side of the street, for example, and thus the odd or even address numbers.

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The series title is derived from a line from the passage Doors of Perception from English poet William Blake’s book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell–’If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.’ Colmer was interested in the passage of time, and how the structure which defines it is shaped by personal experience. As the viewer looks closely at his photographs, there are glimpses of not only the artist’s reflection but also passers-by, sometimes not fully in the frame. Colmer deliberately chose to capture New York City as he viewed it and as Blake described–raw, unedited and imperfect, liberated from reason or order, and entirely full of possibility.

Duggal’s H Joseph Smith, Beth Achenbach, Erin Delaney, Ken Bledsoe and Anita Ollivierre worked closely with Lisson Gallery and Roy Colmer’s Estate to scan and retouch over 3,100 negatives, as well as print the photos on b&w fiber paper.


Beth Achenbach & Erin Delaney with Roy Colmer’s ‘Doors, NYC (1975–1976)’ at Lisson Gallery

The exhibition opened at Lisson Gallery last Thursday, January 16th, 2020, and will be open to the public until February 22, 2020.