|Continuing her long-term exploration of the architectural interior as a genre of photographic investigation, artist Wijnanda Deroo has scoured New York's five boroughs documenting the full spectrum of the city's culinary institutions. From Café des Artistes to Papaya Dog, the Russian Tea Room to Yonah Schimmel's Knishes, Deroo's viewfinder alights on diverse sites (and sights) where we New Yorkers sit (or stand) to consume our daily bread. Composing an atlas of the city's restaurants and cafes, Inside New York Eateries is an important addition to the photographic history of New York.|
Employing her characteristic affinity for distinctive color, décor and light, Deroo's subtle formalism explores the particular character of each location. These photographs playfully alternate between kitsch and cool, appropriate to their individual subjects. In this sense they take seriously the significance of ornament and adornment, leveling the disparate hierarchies normally associated with these subjects and turning the focus away from the food. These photographs delight in the uncanny trompe l'oeil murals, genre paintings, floral carpeting and odd assemblages of artifacts lining the restaurant interiors.
With recently shuttered institutions like Tavern on the Green in Central Park or Relish Diner in Williamsburg, there is also an nostalgic quality to the series, testament to inevitable economic cycles and the cutthroat nature of the high-powered New York restaurant industry. And yet, many of these cafes are durable, perennial favorites, trans-generational in their appeal simultaneously indicative of a cross-section of aesthetic and historical moments. How many thousands have sidled up to the Grand Central Oyster Bar (established 1913) at the end of an arduous day? However, consistent with her entire body of work, Deroo's scenes remain eerily devoid of human figures — except the occasional painted mural or decorative detail — the devoted patrons and staff remaining conspicuous by their absence.
Inside New York Eateries is Wijnanda Deroo's third solo exhibition at Robert Mann Gallery. Selections from the series were first displayed in the Museum of the City of New York's 2009 exhibition Dutch Seen: New York Rediscovered, in honor of the 400-year anniversary of the Dutch arrival in Manhattan. Born in the Netherlands, Deroo currently resides in upstate New York. Her photographs are included in significant public collections internationally including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Moderna Museet, Stockholm; the Musée Nationale d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.
The images in "Wijnanda Deroo: Inside New York Eateries" are about color and composition and fun. I assume Ms. Deroo was involved in hanging the exhibition, and anyone who would allow "Tavern on the Green, Central Park, 2009" to be placed next to "Yonah Schimmel's Knishes, 137 Houston Street, 2009," and "Papaya Dog, 42nd & 9th Avenue, 2009" to bump up against "Café des Artistes, 1 West 67th Street, 2009" has a droll sense of humor. The Dutch photographer understands that restaurants are fictions we inhabit, stage sets on which we enact dramas of eating, and presents them in a stylish but straightforward manner, inviting us to select which roles we want to play.
The eateries are empty of diners, wait staff and cooks, except for one blurred figure behind the counter in the cavernous "Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant, Grand Central Terminal, 2009." But the tables are set in those restaurants that have napery, such as "Delmonico's, 56 Beaver Street, 2009" and "Café Arbat, 306 Brighton Avenue, 2009," as if the curtain has just gone up and we are expected to make an entrance. Ms. Deroo's compositional approach to these interiors is varied, and she appreciates the dark wood paneling in "The Oak Room, 10 Central Park South, 2009" as well as the gaudy Indian colors of "Milon, 93 First Avenue, 2009." The swank and the plebeian are treated with equal respect.
This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the Netherlands Cultural Services.