Institutionalized: an outsider’s perspective on New York’s art institutions. Photography by Paul Barcena.

Paul Barcena is a fine art photographer and photojournalist based in New York City. His series of collages Institutionalized (2017) was inspired by his experience of navigating the city’s exclusive art world following his move from Querétaro, Mexico. Each photograph juxtaposes fragments of major art institutions with images from the city. In doing so, Barcena sets up a tension between two visions of urbanity: the white-walled art gallery – placeless and sterile – together with the disordered, disintegrating built environment.

“Initially, I started documenting and photographing these two spaces separately,” he explains. “But with time, I realised that these two different spaces had many similarities. So I started bringing together these clean slick images of institutions with rough images of everywhere else and tried to look at the tension between them – where things match, where they don’t and why”.

Barcena discovered certain affinities between two opposing architectural languages: the museum and the street, the global and the hyperlocal. His photographs make the boundaries between institutions and the everyday seem porous. “These institutions are just the same as everywhere else, they just have a lick of paint over them and a famous name, that’s all,” he writes. §