Critics’ Picks

Bill Cunningham, Untitled, New York City, 1979–81,gelatin silver print, 10 x 8".

Bill Cunningham, Untitled, New York City, 1979–81,
gelatin silver print, 10 x 8".

New York

Bill Cunningham

Bruce Silverstein Gallery
529 West 20th Street Third Floor
September 26–November 21, 2020

For decades, many turned straight to the style section of the New York Times’ Sunday edition to pore over the vast arrays of tiny images the ubiquitous photographer Bill Cunningham shot at galas, at couture shows, at art galleries, and alfresco, celebrating the twin pillars of high and low society: fashion and fame. He had a knack for catching his comely subjects—whether the well-born and powerful or the chicest of the hoi polloi—unawares, mid-sentence, -gesture, -stride, and -kiss, imbuing his weekly offerings with the frenetic energy of the day.

“New York, New York” is an ebullient show that focuses on Cunningham’s street photography, where he reveled in picking from the crowd what he discerned, often prophetically, as trends in style and culture, as well as the odd celebrity. Among the eighty-plus photographs featured here, we see punkish Mudd Club denizens, Keith Haring tagging a window, Central Park roller skaters, a leggy Pat Cleveland toting a Fiorucci shopping bag, a grinning blue-blooded school girl in white gloves, the deadpan stares of cabaret artists Joey Arias and Klaus Nomi, clusters of decked-out dowagers from the Upper East Side, and spiffy men in fur coats and leather trousers. These uniforms and poses, now relics of New York’s second Gilded Age, are loaded with references to social history. Bridging the generation gap is a beaming Anna Wintour—who often said, “We all get dressed for Bill”—framed by two men in black tie. In the spirit of Garry Winogrand’s 1975 “Women are Beautiful” series and Malick Sidibé’s exquisite portraits of elegant Malian nightclub habitués from the 1960s and ’70s, the best of Cunningham possesses a timeless joie de vivre, a reverence for personal expression, and a healthy dose of voyeurism.