A Water-Logged Gallery Brings Its Art To Viewers
11/28/2012 - 23:14
Sandee Brawarsky
Michal Chelbin, Young Prisoners, Juvenile Prison for Boys, Russia, 2009. Photo courtesy Andrea Meislin Gallery
Michal Chelbin, Young Prisoners, Juvenile Prison for Boys, Russia, 2009. Photo courtesy Andrea Meislin Gallery

Since its exhibition, “Sailboats and Swans,” was interrupted by the fierce winds and water surge caused by Hurricane Sandy, the Andrea Meislin Gallery is getting images from the show out to viewers via email. Every Monday, the gallery emails three photographs of the show, featuring the work of Israeli photographer Michal Chelbin.

Andrea Meislin was one of many Chelsea galleries that suffered extensive damages due to the storm. Located on the first floor of a building on West 24th Street, the gallery was filled with 3 feet of water. Artwork was damaged, as were its walls, which are being rebuilt. Founded in March 2004, the gallery includes many significant Israeli photographers among its roster of artists.

Chelbin’s work had been up for 10 days when the hurricane hit. The show features striking portraits of men and women incarcerated in 7 prisons in Russia and Ukraine, the lands of Chelbin’s own background. Over six years, Chelbin and her husband gained unusual access to photograph the inmates (gifts to the guards and also to the prisoners helped, and she was sometimes presented with gifts from the prisoners too). Her subjects, who gaze directly into the camera, are very used to being watched, if not photographed, but they are full of mystery, intensity and complexity. Some captions indicate their crimes – although Chelbin never asked about why they were jailed until after completing the portraits, which took several hours.

The title of the show refers to the contradictions all over the prison, where some of the women wear flowery uniforms, and some murderers might work as nannies. On prison walls, she found wallpaper with bucolic themes, like sailboats and swans, in sharp contrast to the harshness of these places. Viewers are drawn into imagining her subjects’ stories and whether they will see freedom again.

“I usually photograph people outside the mainstream, and I look for faces and eyes that express the complexities of life and for a gaze that transcends from the private to the common,” Chelbin says.

A book on the exhibit features 62 color plates, with an essay and interview by novelist A. M. Homes, who writes, “They are portraits of what is essential, what remains.”

Readers who would like to receive their emails should contact the gallery, info@andreameislin.com, or see the gallery section of their website, andreameislin.com/gallery/

The gallery, at 534 West 24th Street, plans to reopen on Thursday, November 28th and the show will be extended through January 19, 2013.

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