Merry Alpern: Dirty Windows #7, 1994
February 10, 2020
Merry Alpern's series Dirty Windows feels as provocative and relevant today as it did when first exhibited 25 years ago. The battle for defining morality continues.
Taken from a friends loft in lower Manhattan, Alpern discovered that one floor below, across 15 feet of air shaft, she could clandestinely observe men and women transacting sex and drugs in a tiny bathroom of a private lap-dance club. In an interview in December 2016 with ICP curator Pauline Vermare, she stated:
"I was transfixed and spent the next six months sitting in the dark, dressed in black, camera on tripod, watching the goings-on of perfect strangers. I had to use fast black-and-white film in the dim light, which gave the photos a grainy quality reminiscent of low-grade peepshow reels. What began as the desire to get a single, great picture became an obsession and even found its way into my dreams. As the project continued, a sense of paranoia set in-was anyone watching me?
During that time I had little connection to the art world, but I submitted some of the photos to the National Endowment of the Arts. Months later, I received a baffling phone call notifying me that my work had been approved for a grant that was then overturned. The caller added that I'd be reading about it in the paper the next day. Overnight, fueled by news of the NEA's rejection, the pictures gained notoriety and took on a life of their own."