'Invisible City / Night Walk, 1983-1989': Ken Schles documents NYC's Lower East Side in the 80's

A gritty and penetrating portrayal of New York’s Lower East Side in the 1980s by Ken Schles will be on view at Howard Greenberg Gallery from January 29 – March 14, 2015. The exhibition of 40 black and white photographs coincides with the publication of a new Steidl monograph, Night Walk (2014), a companion to Schles’s underground cult classic Invisible City (1988). Recently reprinted by Steidl, Invisible City is considered alongside Brassaï’s Paris de Nuit and Ed van der Elksen’s Love On The Left Bank to be one of the great depictions of the nocturnal bohemian experience of the 20th century. An opening reception with the artist will be held on Thursday, January 29 from 6-8 p.m.

In 1983, Ken Schles moved into an apartment on Avenue B in the East Village. His windows were boarded up because his landlord said that junkies could steal the gates with a crowbar. This worked to Schles’s advantage – he set up a darkroom. Life moved at a tumultuous pace. Downstairs, a woman with three kids was a heroin addict and dealers used her apartment as a shooting gallery. The city shut down the boiler in the building, which was spewing carbon monoxide. With scenes like this playing out daily right outside his doorstep, Schles found gripping subject matter in and around the neighborhood.

The exhibition presents images from both Night Walk and Invisible City, revealing a provocative narrative of lost youth and a private view of an irretrievable downtown New York as Schles saw and experienced it.

Among the highlights of the show is Drowned in Sorrow, 1984, depicting a shabbily glamorous woman in a short dress, torn stockings and heels, lying across a couch while talking on a corded telephone. The headline of the Village Voice on the plank wood floor reads “Drowned in Sorrow.” In Limelight (Suzie Streetwalker, Ellen Kenneally, Nick Egan and Johnny Dynell), 1983, Schles captures the nightlife of his time as a woman in white sits on a ledge, vacant and alone with a drink in her hand, while three club denizens in the foreground chat and laugh. In Burning Building with Moonrise, 1984, neighbors stand and watch as a tenement goes up in flames with the full moon rising above the urban landscape. (Howard Greenberg Gallery)

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