From the mid-1960s through the 1970s, New York-based photographer Michael Putnam captured images of people around the world sleeping in public places. His sleepers, found sprawled in parks, curled up on benches, and contorted into all sorts of unlikely positions, were seen in passing, photographed, and left to sleep on.
Putnam’s photographs are humorous and poignant, pointing out both our shared rituals—like removing one’s shoes, or seeking out a patch of shade—and more idiosyncratic situations or habits. At the same time, these images trace changing attitudes toward both rest and the administration of public space over the last forty years. In many cases, it is difficult to imagine capturing similar pictures today.
This display of Putnam’s photographs is paired with an excerpted DVD presentation of Andy Warhol’s first film, also called Sleep (1963). But unlike the photographs, which depict public sites and anonymous individuals, Warhol’s Sleep is an intimate, real-time portrait of the poet John Giorno at rest. Documenting one man’s entire night of sleep, the five-and-a-half-hour-long film is a landmark of conceptual cinema.
Today, it seems that many people’s relationship to sleep has become fraught with contradictions, as we temper the pull of hyper-efficiency and 24/7 connectivity with conscious attempts at mindfulness or meditation. With these circumstances in mind, the works on view here ask us to face our relationship to sleep, in both the past and present, and public and private realms.