Volume 20 Issue 20 | Sept. 28 - Oct. 04, 2007

Photo by Yola Monakhov

Sasha Wolf in her new, eponymous gallery on Leonard Street

The love life of Sasha Wolf

By Kelly Kingman
Don’t let her cool, born-and-bred New Yorker façade fool you: Sasha Wolf is a romantic who has dedicated herself to a labor of love. After years of holding photography exhibitions in her apartment, the independent curator opened an eponymous gallery last week in a former garage on Tribeca’s Leonard Street — the result of two years of arduous fund-raising and a thorough renovation. “I’m madly in love with what I’m doing now,” says Wolf. “I’m always one hundred percent engaged, I’m always learning, I’m always fascinated and I’m often incredibly moved. I’m just having a ball.”

Wolf began taking pictures when she was 15 years old and found refuge from struggles with academia in the dark room. In college, she discovered filmmaking and began writing and directing short films. One film made it to Cannes in 1997, the only American short to do so, and was nominated for a Palm d’Or award. (“I think why my artists and I are really close is because I’ve made art my whole life,” says Wolf.) Funding short films became draining, and she shifted her focus to representing photographers privately out of her Upper West Side apartment for five years. “I turned the front of my apartment into a gallery, literally,” recalls Wolf. “I think I have clients who didn’t know I actually lived there. It was just white walls, flat files and art.” Her collection eventually outgrew her home, and she knew it was time to move to Tribeca. “I fell in love with Tribeca about 10 years ago. I’m drawn to neighborhoods that don’t feel overdeveloped,” says Wolf. “Though Tribeca is phenomenally affluent, there isn’t a bank on every corner. I love the architecture and just exploring the streets down here.” The neighborhood seems happy to have her, too. “When I was doing construction my neighbors would walk by and yell out ‘good luck’ and ‘can’t wait till you open!’ People would say the nicest things to me.”

Community is important to Wolf, and her artists are her own small community, tied together by their work in the documentary tradition. One of them, Yola Monakhov — who shot her portrait, above — appreciates Wolf’s respect for the medium and her support. “She looks at work very emotionally, without any cynicism,” said Monakhov. “It’s not about big spectacular prints to adorn your palatial residence, it’s about a certain type of photographic investigation. It gives her gallery a distinctly different feel.” Wolf asserts that she prefers work that is rooted in reality. “Nothing is staged or overly conceptual. If I look at a photograph that isn’t staged, like this one of the woman in the hat here,” she points to one of Paul McDonough’s black and whites that currently populate the freshly painted walls, “I’m wondering what she was thinking, what might have happened to her just before or the moment after. I get very carried away in the narrative element. I can’t tell you how many fantasies I’ve had about the people in this room.”

©Paul McDonough, courtesy Sasha Wolf

Paul McDonough, “Central Park, Couple Kissing, NYC,” 1972

The people in the photographs are New Yorkers that Paul McDonough and his camera encountered on the streets between 1968 and 1972. It’s a New York alive with the theater of young, old, black, white, upper, lower and mysterious in-betweens — like the priest in sunglasses who looks as if he wandered out of a Sopranos episode. “They’re Paul’s photographs, but its my exhibit,” says Wolf between rhapsodic discussions of the photos’ composition and narrative qualities. “I spent a year going through his images and I made this body of work. I don’t think I’m giving myself too much credit to say that with some of my artists it’s an extremely collaborative process.”

McDonough, a contemporary of street photographer Garry Winogrand, admits that the show would not exist without her efforts. “When you’re working, you’re collecting, with a sense that you’ll go back.” In this case Wolf went over his work from over 30 years ago to find the work she wanted to display. “I overlooked a lot of stuff — I made hundreds of prints from the contact sheets for her.” He thinks that as a result he’s become a better archivist of his work. “She encouraged me to look for things I might have missed and it’s made me more attentive.”

Now that her doors have opened to both the neighborhood and the public, she hopes to share the work that has become the focus of her efforts and passion. “I’ve always believed if I worked really, really hard and was madly in love with what I was doing that the rest of the world would come around.”

“Paul McDonough: New York City 1968-72” runs through November 10 at Sasha Wolf Gallery, 10 Leonard Street at Hudson, 212-925-0025,

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