Contemporary Art with a Historical Twist
January 22, 2014

Museums can have the bad habit of getting stuck in the past. At the Tenement Museum, we work hard to make connections to the present day, and we’re inspired by the bustling, ever-evolving neighborhood that surrounds us.

To see how history influences contemporary art, look no further than the Denny Gallery at 261 Broome Street. The gallery “specializes in work by emerging and mid-career artists whose practices are interdisciplinary, process-oriented, aware of their social and institutional contexts, and engaged with contemporary issues, materials and technologies.”

The Denny Gallery on Broome St. between Orchard and Allen.

Currently, the Denny Gallery is hosting the first New York City solo show from the artist Danielle Durchslag. The show, Relative Unknowns, features beautiful collages made from dozens, if not hundreds, of pieces of cut paper. Despite appearances of paint, hair, and other media, each work is made exclusively of paper, glue and tape. “I want to push paper to a painterly level,” Danielle said as she showed me around the gallery last week.

She creates immense beauty from few resources, just like the families on the Lower East Side.

© Danielle Durchslag, Relative Unknown 28, 2013. Paper, tape glue and vintage board. 6 x 9 in. Courtesy Danielle Durchslag/ Denny Gallery, NYC

The works in Relative Unknowns are based on a box of photographs of Eastern European immigrants that Danielle found in her parents’ attic. No one in Danielle’s family could identify the people in the photographs; their identities and stories were lost to the ages. Yet that’s exactly what inspired Danielle to use the photographs. She says, “I love how the images have lasted, but the stories don’t.”

The photos never made it onto the family portrait wall, and Danielle knew that if she did not rescue them, they would end up in the trash. She hopes that this show honors the lost stories by finally getting the photos up on the wall. Danielle loves how the lack of stories connected to the photographs allow her to “project a narrative onto them.”

Installation view of Danielle Durchslag: Relative Unknowns at Denny Gallery, NYC. All artworks © Danielle Durchslag. Photo credit: Sean Fader.

Danielle’s best guess (using clues from the photos like clothing and other objects) is that the photos date from the late 1800’s to the 1950’s, and are from her father’s side of the family, who immigrated to Chicago and the Midwest from Russia and Hungary. But, as she pointed out, the photos could be of relatives from other countries or friends of relatives. Some of Danielle’s works are based on photographs that were clearly taken in the United States, and other are more vague in their origin.

© Danielle Durchslag, Relative Unknown 8, 2011. Paper, tape glue and vintage board. 5 x 3.75 in. Courtesy Danielle Durchslag/ Denny Gallery, NYC.

The collages are hung in small groups in batches around the Denny Gallery; gallery owner Elizabeth Denny said that the hanging and framing of works refer to the sometimes slapdash way that families curate their own history and photographic collections. It’s “warmly haphazard,” said Danielle, who guards the original copies of the photographs very closely and swears to never display the original next to the artwork.

Installation view of Danielle Durchslag: Relative Unknowns at Denny Gallery, NYC. All artworks © Danielle Durchslag. Photo credit: Sean Fader.

This work strikes a cord with the Tenement Museum, where we strive to keep the stories, of immigrants not only alive, but relevant to today’s world.

© Danielle Durchslag, Relative Unknown 22, 2013. Paper, tape glue and vintage board. 7.25 x 5.25 in. Courtesy Danielle Durchslag/ Denny Gallery, NYC.

Relative Unkowns runs until February 2nd at the Denny Gallery at 261 Broome Street. The gallery is open Wednesday – Friday, 11 am – 6 pm, Saturday – Sunday, 12 – 6 pm, and Monday and Tuesday by appointment. To purchase a work or set up an appointment, contact Elizabeth Denny at elizabeth@dennygallery.com.

Thanks to Danielle and Elizabeth!

– Posted by Lib Tietjen