Photographer Captures Brooklyn’s Shockingly Rapid Gentrification

In “In Brooklyn: Architectures of Disappearance” at Art 3, Chilean-American photographer Sergio Purtell mourns the end of an era with a series of documentary silver gelatin prints focused on dynamic urban spaces lost to gentrification. Taken from various locations throughout Brooklyn, including Bushwick, Williamsburg, and Gowanus, the exhibition focuses on local areas which have undergone rapid change as a result of economic development since the images were captured.

Purtell’s sober, yet compositionally and texturally rich photos are presented “in memoriam.” Dated between 2008 and 2014, many highlight iconic spaces that were, until just recently, recognizable parts of the daily lives of New Yorkers—an antique building that stood on the site now occupied by Brooklyn’s newest Whole Foods; the formerly collapsed and now active ferry terminal in Greenpoint; an old Bushwick warehouse that is now a satellite location of Chelsea gallery Luhring Augustine; the freshly removed “Kentile Floors” sign that greeted F- and G-train commuters as they trekked over the Gowanus Canal. Each space contains traces of the people who have molded them, but who are, in most of these images, hauntingly absent. It’s an apt metaphor for those displaced by the influx of money in these neighborhoods.

The “Real” series owes much to the work of history’s greatest documentary and spatial photographers, including Walker Evans and Bernd and Hilla Becher. Inspired by the artist’s childhood travels across Chile, “Real” is the story of his ongoing journey through a United States being rapidly remodeled as a result of economic changes; he has so far made it through a large chunk of the American northeast. Art 3’s focus on the photographs taken in Brooklyn is particularly relevant, it being a new gallery in Bushwick, a poster child case of rapid gentrification. By displaying these works, the curators remind viewers of the history of the space around them, underscoring the connection between that which has been lost, and that which has been gained. 

—K. Sundberg

In Brooklyn: Architectures of Disappearance” is on view at Art 3, Brooklyn, Apr. 8–May 17, 2015.

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