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Columbia Spectator Staff

As an unfortunate consequence of having grown up in Honolulu, I was long convinced that all art galleries were variations on the tacky Wyland showrooms I often passed in Waikiki. The people that frequented these sought something innocuous and cute to commemorate their vacations and exotify their living rooms back home. I thought that because galleries were by definition commercial venues, they would never risk featuring exhibits that lacked mass-market appeal. A few weeks in this city were enough to disabuse me of that notion. In my first few weekends as a freshman I was fortunate enough to participate in a handful of unplanned excursions that showed me that there was much more to the New York art scene than the customary Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, and Guggenheim circuit. It became evident that small galleries, lacking large acquisitions committees and tenured directorial boards, had much more freedom to take risks with obscure, upstart, or unconventional artists. Often, New Yorkers are deterred from exploring galleries by a widespread misconception that all the best are buried in Chelsea. While it's true that the region between West 30th and 14th streets has an incredibly high concentration of offerings (the official listing on puts the number of galleries at well near 400), tremendous exhibitions can be found in a number of different neighborhoods and boroughs—one only needs to know where to look. Many also shy away for fear of the smaller, oppressively pretentious atmosphere that small galleries can present. Personally, I find that enduring the occasional stare of a haughty curator unable to detect the reek of money that would flag me as a potential buyer is a small price to pay for universally free admission to some of the city's latest and greatest collections. For this column's first feature, I chose to spotlight a great uptown gallery currently running a show near and dear to my Francophilic heart. Nestled in a charming red brick building on East 75th Street, the Gitterman Gallery specializes in photography and, until Valentine's Day, will be showcasing the work of French photographer Daniel Masclet. Masclet's oeuvre is undoubtedly influenced by some of the more notable Paris-based interwar photographers. His abstracted nudes smack of Man Ray, his interest in prototypically Parisian characters and scenes like the cabaret dancer and the Rue St. Vincent remind one of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau, and his disquieting fascination with abandoned lanes, urban decay, and the misty, otherworldly aura of Paris at night calls to mind the evocative early work of Brassaï. Yet Masclet's vision is far from derivative or uniform. Working within the same grayscale palette as his colleagues, Masclet manages somehow to avoid the romanticized and nostalgic aesthetic requisite for making prints acceptable for reproduction on postcards and dorm-room posters of Paris. Works like Boite de Sardines and Vielle petite poupee put us uncomfortably close to everyday objects like a box of oily sardines. In Les Morlocks... d'apres Wells we discern the well-tailored outline of several ladies about town, but the intense backlighting obscures all the finer details of their appearance that would convert the shot into something glamorous. The exhibition even features a sampling of Masclet's print work and portraiture. The avant-garde Europe (1948) has many of the attributes of modern urban stencil art, while a provocative, deliberately androgynous series of portraits of his wife Francesca takes on a singular dark allure. Despite his status as a central figure in French photography from the 1930s to the 1950s, Masclet's work is largely unknown in the U.S. The Gitterman Gallery has a history of featuring lesser-known artists, past and present. On occasion they also present larger exhibitions, such as their 2006 multi-artist retrospective "Celebrating the American West." The gallery is open Wednesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and also by appointment (212-734-0868). Lorraine White is a Columbia College junior majoring in French and economics.