Marc Yankus: The Secret Lives of Buildings, ClampArt, New York

Marc Yankus, Nineteenth Street. Courtesy ClampArt

Marc Yankus, Nineteenth Street. Courtesy ClampArt

Architecture, through the lens of photographer Marc Yankus, is animated, alive, and always at least a little bit strange. In his exhibition The Secret Lives of Buildings, on view at ClampArt through November 26, ordinary sites have a habit of turning otherworldly.

The first subject on view is a slim building on 19th Street in New York’s Flatiron District. The building rises 10 stories, with bas-reliefs and decorative details in abundance, over two streets running quietly, serenely, on either side. It appears to be a more or less normal cityscape until certain aspects become apparent. Why are there so few people around? What’s with the colorful balloons for sale in the street-level storefront of a looming building so stately and grey? How is it that the streets on either side of the building have the same signs for shops pedaling the same “Hardware” and “Books”—and, in fact, the same everything, so that it slowly becomes clear they’re the same street, copied and pasted on either side of the building?

Marc Yankus, New City. Courtesy ClampArt

Marc Yankus, New City. Courtesy ClampArt

Post-production tweaks and adjustments of unspecified kinds figure into photographs that blur fact and fiction. They all look like documentary images, though – even, or especially, at the extremes of post-production tinkering, like Nineteenth Street, described above, or New City, a confounding picture of a massive empty pedestal perched between buildings that mirror each other across the street. None of Yankus’s tweaks are other than subtle. But even when detected, the effects summon the sensation of wandering through one of Giorgio de Chirico’s surreal painted piazzas or Bernd and Hilla Becher’s pictures of ghostly industrial structures.

Some of Yankus’s photographs are obviously composites, such as Row of White Buildings, with four identical constructions aligned side by side. But others, ranging from familiar urban sites to anonymous buildings of brownstone and brick, appear entirely untouched or else in too nuanced a way to know. Gargoyles and decorative eagles leer, streets empty out, buildings seem to tilt and lurch in a fashion that owes to visual perspective more than physical fact – all of these effects borrow their power from the way it feels to walk a city’s streets and be surrounded, on all sides, by a mundane and surreal world.