A Walk through Astoria and Other Places in Queens, 1943 at Bruce Silverstein

Art Scene

A Walk through Astoria and Other Places in Queens, 1943 at Bruce Silverstein

A collaborative project by Rudolph Burckhardt and Edwin Denby, A Walk through Astoria and Other Places in Queens, takes viewers through a minimalist landscape made poetic by the unpretentious eyes of Burckhardt and the understated prose of Denby. The exhibition features work from the third album in a series created between 1939 and 1943. Burckhardt, also a filmmaker, and Denby, a dance critic, were part of an active circle of artists in New York’s downtown bohemian scene that included an unknown William de Kooning, Frank O’Hara, and Franz Klein, among others.

The exhibition, presented in a small box style room, features a sequenced presentation of 71 vintage gelatin silver prints and five typed sonnets. The small scale images offer a window into what appears to be a neglected, underdeveloped industrial area of Queens; a stunning contrast to the increasingly ubiquitous nature of real estate speculation dominating everyday life in New York City today. Empty lots with overgrown vegetation, rocks, and/or pre-war architecture, either unpopulated or with a few figures in the frame, make up the initial set of images. Overcast skies filling the top half of several of the images emphasize the vastness of the landscape and position it as unchartered territory.

However, as the viewer moves through the series of photographs, two artworks that each feature four images framed together reveal signs of life. Men and women dressed formally, pushing baby carriages or on afternoon strolls, leisurely pass through the image frames, introducing the viewer to a sense of community.

One striking image, shot in the Laurel Hill section of Queens, could easily be mistaken for a photograph of an abandoned fading town in the Wild West. Three lone buildings sit in an empty dust blown landscape with vegetation resembling tumbleweed in the lower right section of the frame. A graveyard can be seen in the distance, and telephone wires run horizontally through the upper half of the frame, creating movement, albeit with no beginning or end.

Toward the end of the exhibition, in the final stanza of the last sonnet, Denby writes,

“You wear the city, the section you use

Like the clothes on your back and your hygiene

You notice property as you do news

By when to stay out and where you go in.”

His words bring to mind the intimacy and alienation that exists in city life, just as a few of Burckhardt’s photographs allow the viewer to glimpse the Manhattan skyline – a destination both near and far.