Critics’ Picks

John Riddy, New York (Black Star 1), 2016, archival pigment print, 53 x 48". From the series “New York (Black Star),” 2016.

John Riddy, New York (Black Star 1), 2016, archival pigment print, 53 x 48". From the series “New York (Black Star),” 2016.


John Riddy

Frith Street Gallery | Golden Square
17-18 Golden Square
February 23–April 14, 2018

What poetics suits depictions of a metropolis aging through incessant change? For John Riddy, photography of intense detail and finely tuned, lugubrious ochres and grays is one way to apprehend this weathering of modern cities. His pictures of Lower Manhattan and the dank brickwork of London’s Victorian railway arches take on a cinematic melancholy. In the charcoal-black walls of London (Lambeth Road 1–3), 2017, a century’s accretions of grime and soot recall an Andrei Tarkovsky set. The images are exhaustive exercises in locating richness within the inappreciable qualities of forlorn masonry.

The trio New York (Black Star 1–3), 2016, each part taken from the same position in a hotel window overlooking Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, scans southward over the back of the Whitney Museum across depopulated streets. The city has never seemed more like a ghost ship. Two images show it resembling a container vessel plowing through heavy seas, flat rooftops slicked with rain as a storm passes, Washington Street carving a line between piles of rectilinear architecture to end in a prow of distant Wall Street towers enveloped in cloud. In the first picture, taken at night beneath a clear sky, New York glistens with electricity. The titles refer to that of the Frank Stella sculpture visible on the Whitney’s terrace, lurking like a sci-fi sea urchin.

Riddy’s contrast of the sculpture’s glossy, stellated form with the delicate transitions of architectural color and tone implants a malevolent alienness in the city’s ashen infrastructure. His insistence on somberness as the central urban aesthetic condition frames the city itself as a black star, implacable and voracious. Riddy’s photographic practice as consummate material reconnaissance implies awareness of the camera as a kind of omniscient black star as well, absorbing the subject in its entirety.