The sleeper exhibition of the summer had to be the show of photos by Joe Lewis in the project gallery at Kathleen Cullen Fine Art on West 26th Street.
Printed in black and white so that the metallic emulsion becomes almost pearlescently silver and gold, these pictures look antique and futuristic both. Some photos have the quality of historical documents, others seem like dreams or memories, or transmissions from deep space. The silhouette of a wine glass or an amphora, a blurry shadow of an electrical transmission tower, a fragment of a 19th-century proclamation of manumission.
Still others hint at pictorialism, like a ship cutting through northern seas, seen as if through a twilight storm, or a group of Klansman gathered at night in the middle of some ominous deed. For Lewis, the subject is not esthetic vanity but broader social and cultural deeds, things that form both the reality and unconscious of 21st-century life.
His wide reach is unsurprising — in addition to photography, Lewis has worked with sculpture, performance, installation, public art and music, and has also been involved in a lot of community-based activities. He has exhibited his works at Nexus in Atlanta (1989), Robert Berman Gallery in L.A. (1993), the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati (1996) and at Substation in Singapore (2001). In addition to his early days with Collaborative Projects and Fashion MODA in the South Bronx, Lewis has more recently been dean of art schools at Cal State Northridge and FIT. Currently he runs the art and design program at Alfred University in upstate New York.
This interview was conducted via email in August 2007.