Friday, March 20, 2009

Zoe Leonard at Hispanic Society

After much procrastination, I finally ventured North to check out the Zoe Leonard show at the Hispanic Society. It didn't disappoint. I had seen first part of the show, the Analogue series, a few times before. It had been included it the last Documenta, and parts of it were included in the "Eminent Domain" show at the New York Public Library last year. I have been a fan of this work since the first time I saw it. Though it's a conceptual project at its core, Ms Leonard leads us through her thoughts and ideas with such clarity, one could almost call the work documentary.

The series charts both the extinction of the Lower East Side neighborhood in which Ms Leonard had lived, and also maps the transit of products from neighborhoods like the LES to other poorer nations like Uganda, Poland, and Mexico. "Analogue" has two manifestations: the 400 C-prints we can see at the Hispanic Society, and a set of 40 dye-transfer prints taken from the larger opus. I particularly like the dye-transfer set as it extends yet again the idea of extinction using a dying technology to limn a dying society. But seeing the complete set of 400 prints has its pleasures as well. Threads of visual clues knit through multiple works making it clear that disparate photos are actually from the same place. But seen in a different way, it's amazing to me how this series links pictures of a New York neighborhood with flea markets and roadside vendors in Africa and Eastern Europe. Is Ms Leonard saying we aren't so different from them or is she asking if we're already a third world nation?

But I was as unfamiliar with the second part of the show as I was familiar with the first. Here Ms Leonard takes form the archives of the Hispanic Society maps and guides -- called derroteros -- that led ancient explorers to foreign lands and treasures. Ecstatically illustrated and illuminated, these documents could easily be contemporary map-based art. They're filled with anthropomorphical renderings of natural phenomena and gorgeous graphical drawings of compasses. Each derrotero is crammed with information - almost no space is left white or blank - and symbols abound connoting religious, national, or directional data. And, as they led explorers from centuries ago to unfamiliar places, so too does "Analogue" lead us to places we would not find for ourselves. Both are maps of a particularly personal nature.

The show has been reviewed beautifully by Holland Cotter in the Times and Joshua Mack in Time Out NY.

If you want to make a little afternoon of your trip up to 155th St., treat yourself to lunch at La Fiesta (3797 Broadway (Btwn 157th & 158th St)
Phone: (212) 281-2886). It's a wonderful little Mexican diner with great homemade food.....that is if your home had yummy sopa de pollo and handmade tortillas. My sopa de pollo was a spicy red broth laden with pieces of chicken on the bone. Everything was fresh and delicious. It seemed the perfect end to my own little "northern expedition" to the Hispanic Society. Also, check out the permanent collection at the Hispanic Society. It's a cool, idiosyncratic mansion in the middle of Manhattan North.

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