Parents Day

New York

Left: Author Sean Wilsey and critic Celia McGee. Right: Stephen Shore.

I caught the early end of Stephen Shore’s Wednesday-night opening at 303 Gallery as lots of late-afternoon sun filtered down Twenty-second Street. For most of Chelsea’s gallery hoppers, there was still time for a late-afternoon promenade; just in front of the gallery steps, Bob Nickas strolled by, presumably enjoying the last rays before making a more appropriately timed arrival, and designer John Bartlett slipped past, headed in the other direction. Stepping in alongside International Center of Photography curator Carol Squiers and collector Neil Frankel (dog in tow), I found Shore leisurely leading a small crowd of enthusiasts from photo to photo and pausing to sign the occasional book. Hardly larger than drugstore prints, the matted and framed images required the kind of intimate encounter that was aided by Shore’s personalized explanations. (Pointing out the fingernail shadow above a toilet lid in a New Mexico restroom, Shore found camaraderie with a fellow Rollei owner: “It’s the only camera with the flash underneath rather than over the lens.”) Along with a selection from 1972’s “American Surfaces” series (shown recently at P.S. 1) and a few larger prints from 1973’s “Uncommon Places,” Shore also exhibited a 1971 Super-8 video and, for the first time, pages from a “visual diary,” a scrapbook from his now-famous 1972-73 road trip. The artist described the works as “related in time” but noted that the video (his only Super-8 work) precedes the 1972 photographs but features “some of the same places in New York City, Amarillo, Texas, northern New Mexico, and Route 22 in New Jersey” that he returned to—this time with a still camera—over the next year. Maika Pollack, of Brooklyn’s Southfirst gallery, approached Shore to invite him to “Mystic River,” its current group show, organized around the feeling evoked by Shore’s 1979 photograph Merced River and based in part on an interview conducted with Shore by exhibition curator (and participating artist) Noah Sheldon.

Left: Author Francine du Plessix Gray. Right: Southfirst Gallery owner Maika Pollack.

Already late for a panel on “memoir” at SoHo’s Housing Works Bookstore, I hailed a cab downtown and slipped inside, where a modest assortment of book-club types listened intently to the discussion between best-selling authors Sean Wilsey (Oh the Glory of It All) and Francine du Plessix Gray (Them: A Memoir of Parents). Experts on hysterical mothering (Wilsey locates his mother somewhere between Norma Desmond and Joan Crawford), the panelists deftly fielded such questions as “What was the worst thing your parents ever did to you?” The audience thrilled to Gray’s proclamations, such as her top-down observation that, with the “example set by a government that is so steeped in lies,” we will also have “that Harvard girl who plagiarized a novel.” Interestingly, both Gray and Wilsey have family ties to the art world. Gray’s father, Alexander Liberman, was a painter in addition to being the legendary art director of Condé Nast, and her mother was an avant-garde hat designer; Wilsey’s stepmother, in what he described as her “crowning achievement,” recently raised money for the construction of the new de Young Museum in San Francisco. One of the first large-scale projects by architects Herzog and de Meuron in the United States, the museum has a very personal resonance for Wilsey. “One of the first pieces I ever wrote, in 1999, was about the two architects who built the museum,” Wilsey recalled. Wilsey’s mom doesn’t seem to have read the article, or, if she did, it failed to give her a deep appreciation for cutting-edge architecture. “She doesn’t know anything about culture,” he explained. “She wanted to have the museum’s marble floor ripped out because it wasn’t conducive to wearing Manolo Blahnik heels.”

Michael Wang