Wolfgang Staehle Catches Gentrification in Action

THE DAILY PIC: At Postmasters, Staehle provides a second-by-second record of the changes that hit a New York street.

THE DAILY PIC (#1699): In a city that won’t stop changing, New York’s Lower East Side must be the neighborhood that’s gone through the most thorough transformation over the last decade or so. From a rough immigrant neighborhood where gangs roamed the streets – but where artists and other fiscally challenged folk could still afford to live – the L.E.S. has become the poster-child for gentrification, with all the benefits (crème-brulée donuts) and ills (velvet-rope nightclubs) that it brings.

Now, at Postmasters gallery, a ten-monitor installation by Wolfgang Staehle presents a year-by-year – almost second-by-second – record of the changes. For more than a decade now, Staehle has kept a digital camera set up on the fire escape of his Lower East Side tenement, documenting the view down onto the street across from his place. The camera automatically shoots a new still every seven seconds, yielding a final video that has a sped-up, stop-motion effect.

For his current Postmasters show, Staehle has filled each of his monitors with footage from a different 24-hour period from a different year between 2005 and 2016. (Click here to see a sample from one of the pieces.) To add to his reality effect, Staehle has also programmed his videos so that all of them reflect the real, current time in New York. Visit the gallery, as I did, at 6:00 pm in December, and the monitor that’s filled with images from December 20, 2012, reveals a dark evening light while the one for June 14, 2009, shows a street still lit up by a bright summer dusk. And going from monitor to monitor gives us a chance to register all the little changes that have affected – or infected – his classic Lower East Side street. Most touchingly, the old El Sombrero restaurant, famous for artery-clogging meals and a grand old sign has been given a face-lift that, of course, now involves a façade of distressed barnwood and ironic neon. I’m sure the restaurant’s food and drink are vastly improved. (Duck tacos, anyone?) I doubt the same can be said of its soul, or its clientele.

For a full survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.

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