Andrew Durbin on the Photographer Oto Gillen

‘Gillen suggests that New York is less a place than it is an open-ended idea’

Oto Gillen was born in New York and works here, among disappearing storefronts and upwardly trending rents, as a photographer of the city’s transient lives. He is best known for his slideshow, New York (2015–ongoing), which features candid photographs of the city’s construction sites (mostly the torqued, incomplete office towers at Hudson Yards, which rise up against the glimmer of dusk, or in evening mist, their unfinished innards shining with flecks of blue and white light), food-truck operators cloaked in the smoke pouring from their grills, idlers outside bodegas, protesters, working-class men and women crossing the street, fish lying in tubs, anyone and anything happening in Manhattan. New York flips through scene after scene with an aim to depict ‘common life’. That’s a funny, inexplicable term, especially after these past few years – a period Dayna Tortorici has rightly called ‘The Long 2016’, given the intractability of our present historical slog. Now, the notion of a commons, Gillen’s subject, is under persistent assault, and the US remains riven as ever by racial hatred. But Gillen’s slideshow – my favourite work of these past few years – suggests that New York is less a place than it is an open-ended idea: continuous and, most of all, ongoing. I take that with me.

Oto Gillen, New York, 2015 - ongoing, dye sublimation print on aluminium and wood. Courtesy: the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

Oto Gillen, New York, 2015-ongoing, dye sublimation print on aluminium and wood. Courtesy: the artist and Metro Pictures, New York 

Main image: Oto Gillen, Madison Street, August 24, 2017, 2018, dye sublimation print on aluminium and wood, 122 × 81 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Metro Pictures, New York 

Andrew Durbin is senior editor of frieze, based in New York, USA. He is the author of Mature Themes (2014) and MacArthur Park (2017), both published by Nightboat Books.

Issue 200

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January - February 2019

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