For those that remained in New York City in the early spring of 2020, it was like inhabiting a ghost town. Street life evaporated and daily life took place almost exclusively indoors. Relief from the deafening silence came only in the form of all too frequent sirens both close and far away. Talking heads now appeared from their living rooms, eager to reassure us with nightly updates on hand washing and disinfectants. The news was a lifeline, a mirror, and a means to either instigate or dispel rumor as imaginations ran wild in a moment of fear. Meanwhile outside, the silence of the streets seemed to mock society’s confidence in its own inevitability.
As cities locked down across the globe, the artist enclave turned shopping district of Soho seemed particularly vacant. The absence of tourists pouring into the neighborhood and the flight of many locals when the city went into lockdown created an ominous void amplified by the plywood-clad facades that opulent flagship stores left behind in their wake. Once lending confidence to Soho’s embarrassment of riches through their structural elegance, cast iron buildings lining the cobblestoned streets turned foreboding in the emptiness. Employing a pre-emptive strategy to defend the luxury goods housed within, a sudden, spare beauty emerged in the absence of frenzied commerce, now muted by massive expanses of plywood grain.
Often lost in historical memory are aspects of the recent past still “too close” to notice. As the past is foreshortened and nuanced memories collapse in favor of dramatic events, the media forges on, too impatient to dwell on the bits that don’t fit neatly into instant story lines rolled out on a daily basis. In an effort to preserve an extraordinary moment when one of the world’s largest cities ground to a halt, the newspaper project CLOSED / LOCKED by Muntadas provides a direct and unembellished account of his lower Manhattan neighborhood during the lockdown that began in March 2020.
Walking through abandoned streets, Muntadas photographed the many “closed” signs found in storefronts nearby. With little precedent to rely on, the signs left the most pressing question (“for how long?”) unanswered. Also documenting the ubiquitous plywood cladding turned billboard for graffiti and political speech, the resulting images were collated into a newspaper format and accompanied by excerpts from Beatriz Colomina’s text on the profound effects of Covid on life in the city.
In what might be seen as alternative media account of the early phases of a transformative period in urban experience whose outcome remains unclear, CLOSED / LOCKED archives a once in a lifetime moment in the history of downtown New York. Re-presented as large format images applied to the wall and accompanied by copies of the newspaper, the exhibition CLOSED / LOCKED will run concurrently with Social Photography IX, which has been extended through October 30, 2021.