Meryl Meisler: Best of Times, Worst of Times

March 22 – July 23, 2021
Kathleen O. Ellis Gallery
Virtual Artist Talk: Thursday, April 29, 6pm EST

Collect Best of Times, Worst of Times exhibition catalog, Contact Sheet 211

Light Work’s galleries are currently closed to the general public as part of our ongoing effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. We encourage patrons to visit our exhibitions and events online and to check out our catalog of artist videos.

In Light Work’s early days, during the 1970s and 80s, many artists arrived for their month-long residency with no specific plans for using their time. With only a camera and a vague idea of exploring, they walked the streets of Syracuse, open to the synchronicity of what might happen. Incredible photographs ensued and the artists often called them gifts. Grateful to land in the right place at the right time, they discovered images on their contact sheets that startled and delighted them. But they also saw photography as more than random luck. It was both a collaboration and a conversation. They saw themselves as witnesses.

Over the same decades, Meryl Meisler was photographing her life in and around New York City with the same sense of exploration and possibility as those pioneering Light Work AIRs. Retiring from decades as a public-school art teacher, Meisler began to unearth and rethink her own archive. Part time capsule of the 70s and 80s and part memoir, Best of Time, Worst of Times is an invitation to join her for a wild ride—disco nights, punk bars, strip clubs, Fire Island, family, friends and neighbors, and suburban Long Island. Her exuberant celebration of human connection is particularly poignant now, when we can take none of these gatherings for granted. Meisler clearly celebrates with her subjects. These are her people: she is not an outsider but a participant. She depicts our own shared humanity, humor, and joy.

“I want to show you who I am,” she says now. “My identity as a woman, Jew, lesbian, middle- class teacher, Baby Boomer, New Yorker, liberal, American—and so much more—influences how I perceive and create art about the world around me. I’ve only just begun revealing my huge photography archive. Stay tuned, the best is yet to come!

Meryl Meisler was born 1951 in the Bronx and raised on Long Island, NY. Inspired by Diane Arbus, Jacques Henri Lartigue, her dad Jack and grandfather Murray Meisler, she studied photography with Cavalliere Ketchum at The University of Wisconsin–Madison, and with Lisette Model in New York City. Meisler frequented and photographed the legendary New York discos. A 1978 CETA Artist Grant supported her portfolio on Jewish identity. Upon retiring from 31 years as a NYC public school art teacher, she began releasing previously unseen work, including her books, A Tale of Two Cities: Disco Era Bushwick (Bizarre, 2014),  Purgatory & Paradise: SASSY ‘70s Suburbia & The City (Bizarre, 2015) and New York PARADISE LOST: Bushwick Era Disco (forthcoming 2021). Meisler has received support from Artists Space, CETA, China Institute, Japan Society, LMCC, Leonian Foundation, Light Work, NYFA, Puffin Foundation, VCCA, and Yaddo. She has exhibited at the Brooklyn Historical Society, Brooklyn Museum, Dia Art Foundation, MASS MoCA, New Museum, New York Historical Society, Whitney Museum, and numerous public spaces. Her work is in the collections of AT&T, American Jewish Congress, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Brooklyn Historical Society, Columbia University, Emory University, Islip Art Museum,  Library of Congress, Pfizer, Reuters, and many museums’ artist book collections. Meisler lives in New York City and Woodstock, NY. ClampArt represents her work.