Matthew Pillsbury: Then and Now at Edwynn Houk Gallery

BY Elyssa Goodman, February 15, 2020

©Matthew Pillsbury, Winged Victory, the Louvre, 2008. Courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery

There is no mistaking the grandeur in a Matthew Pillsbury photograph. Façades like the ornate metal and glasswork atop Paris’s Grand Palais des Glaces or the stone passage in which Winged Victory resides at the Louvre are captured in intricate detail with exposures often surpassing an hour. Every building in the skyline, every architectural detail in a museum, is visible to the eye, while bodies rush by in a blur. 

This show encompassed work from other series – Screen Lives, Time Frame, and Sanctuary, the oldest dating back to 2008 – some in black and white, others in color, along with his newest photographs from 2019. With these latest images, produced in the Jewel Changi Airport, Gardens by the Bay, and Marina Bay Sands Hotel, all in Singapore,  Pillsbury turns his eye to the future. It’s as if he’s asking what it will be like if the environment surrenders to superstructures and the only way we can see natural phenomena is if it’s reconstructed indoors. 

While this is a worthwhile question, his photographs raise another: why these places in particular? The photographs in this show captured chic urban destinations – Paris, Brooklyn, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Manhattan – in order, as the gallery’s press release says, to remind us of our transience, the way our existence is constantly changing. But time speeds by not only in expensive tourist locales, fine restaurants, hotels, and museums. It’s obvious when looking at the work that part of the human experience is missing, a part that doesn’t take place in luxurious settings.

Given his artistic practice, what would a Pillsbury photograph look like if it were made in Flint, Michigan, where lines of people wait for bottled water, for example? Or on a block in San Francisco’s Tenderloin? No stranger to social commentary – Pillsbury famously made an image of the Women’s March in 2017, a sea of bright pink whirring under the Washington Monument – he has the wherewithal to create work that could touch on places more diversified and issues more encompassing than the flow of time in stylish urban areas.