Magazine Home  |  News  |  Features  |  Reviews  |  Books  |  People  |  Horoscope  

 Frisking, 1983

Witness (B.E.),1991

Paradise Alley,1983

jane dickson: paradise alley
a portfolio

by Carlo McCormick

It's nearly all gone by now. They've shut 

down the last porno parlor on 42nd Street, 

and New York City shudders at the thought 

of its much maligned mecca of mondo-sleaze 

being turned into the latest in Walt Disney 

theme parks. It's hard not to feel some 

collective pang of nostalgia for the good 

old grubby days when the flesh trade 

swelled in the dark underbelly of this 

beast called Manhattan. As if designed to 

sate just such a longing is "Paradise 

Alley," on view at the Whitney Museum at 

Philip Morris, a mini-retrospective of 

paintings made by Jane Dickson between 1982 

and 1985 (the majority date from 1983) 

while she was a resident of that particular 

intersection of vice, desire and 

desperation in Sin City, Times Square.

It is a dark, nocturnal world of desolation 

that Dickson uncovers in her brooding, 

brutal vistas of old Times Square. The

cityscape of seduction unfolds in a 

penetrating social realism of lurking 

emotions where violence and sexuality are a 

driving lust loitering in the shadows, 

defined by the neon glow of the perpetual 

tease, promising a pay-off somewhere 

between a piece of paradise and a dead-end 

alley. Populated by predators and victims, 

cops and perps, mothers and children, 

pimps, hustlers, prostitutes, johns, 

undercover and in the open, Dickson's 

diverse cast of characters are an anatomy 

lesson in street-corner politics, waiting, 

hunting and hustling, looking for a way out 

or a way in, but all ultimately going 

nowhere. And if she gives us a haunting 

portrait of despair and hopelessness, what 

her work leaves us with is an overriding 

sense of humanity. 

Central to Dickson's compelling urban noire 

is the artist's unflinching gaze. Her work 

is in essence about the act of witnessing, 

and as such it is, at its most provocative, 

a powerful testament to the denizens of the 

hood and the hope that carries them through 

their broken dreams. An anthropology of 

storefront smut society, each view is a 

partial shard, cropped and framed by the 

ever-present architecture of the city as it 

both hides and reveals itself. It is an 

architecture of secrecy and voyeurism made 

dynamic by the sharp cinematic angle. As if 

seen from a window, the action of the 

players is caught in the fine line between 

public spectacle and private drama, the 

noise of the streets and a chilling 

silence; the unobtrusive observer, in a 

rude awakening, registering the crazed 

insomnia of a city that never sleeps.

"Jane Dickson: Paradise Alley" is on view at the Whitney Museum at Philip Morris (at Park Avenue and 42nd Street) until June 12.
Carlo McCormick is associate editor of Paper magazine (available on the Web at www.