Billboards, New York

by Matt Damsker


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Photographs by Wouter Deruytter. Essay by Vicky Goldberg. 48 pages; 30 plates. ISBN No. 90-9019763-X. Published by the Chelsea Art Museum, Home of the Miotte Foundation, 556 West 22nd St., New York, NY 10011. .

Belgian photographer Wouter Deruytter makes Manhattan his home, and this is his homage to the unique surreality of the City's street life, as New Yorkers make their ant-like way beneath the giant billboards that silently scream Fashion! Sex! Buy!

Deruytter's camera captures the taken-for-granted immenseness of these commercial Olympians--the models and celebrities who would seem to dominate and disparage the averageness of everyone else--but the unforced irony of these images is that so little attention is paid to the giants by the Lilliputian masses. It makes for a nice assertion of real life, lived really, as a couple kisses, or old folks scurry, beneath the hot gaze of a Calvin Klein underwear model, or Jennifer Lopez for Louis Vuitton, or, for that matter, an enormous beauty shot of an Asprey wristwatch, filling the frame like some metaphor of mortality while the tiny pedestrians below it strut and fret their hour on life's stage.

These black-and-white photographs are mostly noonday compositions, resulting in a heightened chiaroscuro that lends an all-purpose duality to things, or, as Vicky Goldberg's acerbic essay notes, "a drama of continuous contrasts: big and small, important and insignificant, light and dark, in focus and out, young and old, slim and fat, sleek and dumpy, chic and workaday, throbbing with passion or sunk in daily preoccupations, richly pampered vs. poor and tattered…"

Often, they remind us how unshockable we can be in the face of such market-driven eroticism as the Calvin Klein ads that feature barely clothed models with their mouths and hands all over each other--all in a day's walk to work. This little book (which accompanied last year's exhibition of the same name at the Chelsea Art Museum) will stand the test of time as Deruytter's affectionate and sharply observant hymn to the contrasts of his adopted city.

Matt Damsker is an author and critic, who has written about photography and the arts for the Los Angeles Times, Hartford Courant, Philadelphia Bulletin, Rolling Stone magazine and other publications. His book, "Rock Voices", was published in 1981 by St. Martin's Press. His essay in the book, "Marcus Doyle: Night Vision" was published this past November.