Thursday, January 22, 2015

Of Birds And The East Village

In 1995 three researchers from Keio University, Shigeru Watanabe, Junko Sakamoto and Masumi Wakita won the Ig Nobel Prize for Psychology for teaching pigeons to discriminate between impressionist and cubist paintings using the works of Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso. Interestingly, when the paintings were shown to the birds upside down they could only identify the cubist works.

The Dutch/American artist Anton van Dalen is a pigeon fancier. Each day, weather permitting, he goes to the roof of the building he has called home for the last 47 years and releases his birds from their loft to fly in the sky over Manhattan’s East Village. What was once a common sight has become increasingly rare as this Manhattan enclave has suffered from the advance of gentrification. 

The change wrought over the last four decades to his beloved East Village along with his fascination with animal intelligence of both the winged kind as well as the human kind has long informed his work. Presented in a graphic reportage style it betrays the influence of the New Yorker’s cartoonist and illustrator Saul Steinberg for whom van Dalen was his main assistant for 30 years.

From the seedy streets with their drug-shooting galleries to the upscale bars, fast food restaurants, and well-heeled women van Dalen’s work is infused with the pessimism of the realist but soften with a dry wit as he explores his character’s ability to survive in an environment of restricted behavior. Over time van Dalen’s palette has shift from the monochromatic style of his earlier works to what he calls “the colors of our time,” a mimicking of the light from flat screens, cell phones and computers.

An exhibition of van Dalen’s latest works will open at New York’s PPOW Gallery on the 13 of February and be on show until the 14th of March.

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