Daya Bonnie Astor: “Quotidian Urban Geometry”
At Shift though March 28
by Cynthia Hibbard
Daya Astor, whose recent photography has articulated both the vibrant street art scene and the culture-shifting gentrification of neighborhoods in and around New York City, this time takes a new look at the city she’s known from birth.
By pointing her camera at odd angles up through scaffolding, around corners and into interesting nooks, Astor strives to capture the geometry that dominates every imaginable cityscape—this time in Minneapolis and Barcelona as well as in New York.
Her aim is to accentuate “snippets of the city through structure,” she said, “some of the scaffolding, circles, squares, rectangles—and all that you see in city life.”
Although Astor calls her images “quotidian” or ordinary—in that they have existed in plain sight for years—a few of her selections are iconic. The Coney Island amusement park skyline and the swirling, organic flourishes in Antoni Gaudi’s famous modernist buildings in Barcelona were included almost as geometric exclamation points.
In “Ruben’s Geometry,” Astor touches back to her many past associations with New York street artists as the viewer watches one carefully spray crisp, Bauhaus-like forms within a circle as part of a storefront pop-up exhibit.
Suggestive of her volunteer work with special populations, Astor’s “In Hell’s Kitchen Neighborhood” pokes through scaffolding at a gay pride flag waving in the vicinity of Fountain Gallery, the premier New York gallery to feature the work of persons with mental illness. Astor has volunteered there during summer visits. This past January, she co-exhibited with Fountain’s Anthony Newton, who now, though her assistance, will also exhibit at a gallery outside Paris, France.
Astor’s personal favorite of her cityscapes, “Under the Coca-Cola Sign,” creates a grid-upon-grid abstract depicting the rapid advance of luxury, high-rise condominiums across the East River from Manhattan.
In a series of acrylic panel constructions meant to accentuate her photographs, Astor’s eight Urban Combines offer odd collected ephemera ranging from computer parts to watch innards arranged into urban silhouettes.
“Sometimes the quotidian is very interesting,” Astor said, “whether it’s people or buildings or some drawings in pen and ink.” Included in her show are a few such quick sketches of people she found in Washington Square Park. During her days as an art student at New York University, Astor would often sketch people she encountered in the subways. Around the drawing, she has mounted cut-out figures she was inspired to create after seeing Henri Matisse’s recent cutout exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art.
An ancillary aspect of Astor’s exhibit is the introduction of a children’s book she co-authored with Robert Rose of the Rose International Fund for Children. She also illustrated the book, A Gift for Sita, which tells the story of a poor, blind Nepalese girl’s struggle to get an education.
Taken as a whole, Astor’s show demonstrates that her fascination with the artistic aspects of big city environments and her continuing work on various social justice projects will both likely inform her art-making in the future.