The group show Police at Work has suddenly become more topical than curator Paula Maratea—or the dozen affiliated gallery artists—could’ve guessed. After the deaths-by-police of Michael Brown and Eric Garner in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y. (respectively) and a national debate on police brutality, the January 8 opening might’ve seemed well-timed. But such shows take months to organize, and the roughly 70 photos on display here—most of them low-quality snaps taken with smartphones—obviously extend well into the past year. Still, some wrenching new context must be considered. Two NYPD cops were slain on December 20, and three French police officers died only last week. So the intention here—to watch, or document, those who are watching us—collides with an acute new sensitivity.
After the 2010 police shooting of John T. Williams and the continued federal monitoring of our SPD’s use-of-force policies, we have good reason to be wary of the cops seen here. Most are in bored, unhurried poses, doing nothing important (or threatening). Some are in New York, a few in London; and some wear uniforms I don’t recognize. Confusing matters and diluting the show’s impact, there are images of firemen and museum guards. (“Don’t touch the art” isn’t a life-and-death issue; and at the Henry’s current Ann Hamilton show, you’re allowed to touch much of it.) There’s a randomness to these images, not a specific indictment. None of Gallery 110’s artists are attacking the police, though Maratea has found and hung some inflammatory online texts—again, dating well back into 2014, before recent events—that now raise qualms.
Then there are photos of the surveillance cameras so ubiquitous in Europe and so resisted here. If you read the letters to the editor of The Seattle Times, they (and red-light cams) threaten our precious American freedoms. But those same cameras, along with the bravery of French police, is how the Kouachi brothers were ultimately caught and prevented from further acts of violence. Again: This show isn’t anti-cop, but it’s become important in ways the artists couldn’t have envisioned. Gallery 110, 110 Third Ave. (Tashiro Kaplan Building), 624-9336, gallery 110.com. Noon–5 p.m. Wed.–Sat. Ends Jan. 24.