Grids on Grids

Phenomenological New York attempts to document the feeling of the city rather than its appearance.

Bettina lived and worked at the Chelsea Hotel for half a century, dying a recluse in 2021. Much of this time is accounted for in the prodigious disarray of tessellated street photography, prose, and mathematically resplendent sculptures she left behind for friends like artist Yto Barrada and curator Marina Caron to catalog. This winter, Ulrik gallery put on the first New York exhibition of Bettina’s work in forty years. It sold out. Both New York magazine and the New York Times were quick to praise the show; both, despite their silence during her lifetime, reported that it represented only a fraction of her genius.

It’s true—the exhibition was heavy with potential’s perfume without making a conclusive case for canonical amendments. But some breakthroughs were obvious. If Lucas Samaras turned the camera on his psyche, Bettina chased that idea through the streets. If Martha Diamond’s 1980s paintings of Manhattan skyscrapers were described as “heralding” and “swooshing,” it was Bettina’s Phenomenological New York, a large body of photo prints dating from the prior decad…

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