New York

View of “Matt Keegan,” 2011.

View of “Matt Keegan,” 2011.

Matt Keegan

D’Amelio Terras

View of “Matt Keegan,” 2011.

Titling his recent exhibition for Milton Glaser’s iconic I♥NY logo but replacing the original’s stylized heart with a stylized apple, Matt Keegan framed the show as a tribute—albeit a periodically ambivalent one—to the city. In an interview that takes the place of a press release, Keegan grills the veteran designer about, among other things, his negotiation of the myriad changes that New York has undergone in the course of Glaser’s lengthy career. The designer is philosophical, admitting that times are still tough for many, but finally sides with his hometown: “It’s hard for me to imagine living in any other place. I would not do that by choice.” A similar blend of criticism and affection, both characteristic of the insider, epitomizes Keegan’s take.

The greater part of the show was occupied by groups of small color photographs attached with magnets to a band of thin, wall-mounted metal panels. These were painted in various “industrial” colors—the checklist names “George Washington Bridge Gray,” “Munsell Gray,” and more—while a selection of abstract metal sculptures that occupied odd areas of wall and floor were decorated in, to take two varietals, “Pulaski Red” and “Federal Blue.” Even—in fact, especially—the bridge-and-tunnel brigade should make the connection. The photographs themselves depict moments from everyday life around town. Some of the locations—streets and storefronts around Chelsea—will be familiar to gallerygoers. Other scenes are harder to place but share a focus on the odd conjunctions of permanence and ephemerality that metropolitan life produces. The style is more or less indistinguishable from that of a hundred other urban shutterbugs—I overheard one skeptic deride it as “hipster Flickr”—but perhaps that’s the point. These images may not always be extraordinary in and of themselves, but they work perfectly as documents of an extraordinary place in that they reflect its serendipitous character.

While at a quick glance the arrangement of the photos appears random, they turn out to have been assembled—albeit casually—according to visual and thematic connections. Untitled (Group 1) (all works 2011), for example, includes details of a Con Ed poster, a pair of rusted manhole covers, and a hard-hat worker in repose. Other pieces group images of overstuffed bodegas, sliced-up subway ads, or close-ups of The Panorama of the City of New York, 1964, the periodically updated diorama installed permanently at the Queens Museum of Art. Added to this off-the-cuff frieze of Gotham observed was a limited-edition artist’s book composed of images, based on a PBS series, cataloguing key moments in the city’s physical and cultural expansion—here an engraving of Peter Minuit “purchasing” Manhattan from the Canarsie Indians for a handful of trinkets; there a Jane Jacobs obit—and a pair of curtains printed with a stack of books based on a reading list of books about cities.

Finally, in a nine-minute documentary video, Biography/Biographer, Keegan’s father recounts his experience of meeting various heavy-hitting colleagues of Ed Moses when he was a teenage employee of the private North Hills Golf Course. Noting their craven deference to the influential and controversial developer, Keegan Senior conveys an admiration for the scale of Moses’s accomplishment but ends up rounding on him for wielding individual power to a fundamentally undemocratic extent. It’s a neat personal-political footnote to the extraordinary career recounted by Robert Caro in his 1975 biography of Moses, The Power Broker, dovetailing nicely with the younger Keegan’s diverse vision of New York as an endlessly captivating mess of designs, compromises, and accidents good and bad.

Michael Wilson