What Can Subway Art Teach Us About Beauty?
Answer: Not much. Plus, plans for a “New” New York and the problematic joys of car ownership
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Against Subway Art
Public art is often touted as a “democratizing” force. This is true only if we believe the demos is a rabble of children.
by Allison Hewitt Ward
In March 2019 an exasperated commuter superimposed a hint of self-awareness on one of the William Wegman Weimaraner mosaics installed at the 23rd Street F/M subway station the year before. “I suck,” said one of Wegman’s anthropomorphized dogs in the scribbled speech bubble. Within hours the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) had dispatched a team to remove the confession, proudly tweeting a photo of the wiped-clean tile surface.
Of course, the mosaic still sucks, and the grimy sepia station sucks even more, and the New York City subway even more than that. In lieu of addressing faulty century-old switchboards and decrepit stations, the MTA commissions art for its crumbling walls and, with ruthless efficiency, eliminates any threats to its regime of aesthetic banality. The problem is less one of gilding the lily than of nickel-plating the turd. Whether subway art can, or even ought to, not suck is as open a question today as it was for its earliest advocates.
Read more about subway mosaics (and Dr. Zizmor) here.
A plan to get post-pandemic New York back on track lacks imagination.
by Karrie Jacobs
A Post-it Note or two could easily contain the substance of the 159-page document called “New New York: Making New York Work for Everyone,” issued jointly in December by New York City mayor Eric Adams and New York State governor Kathy Hochul. But I felt compelled to read, or at least peruse, the whole thing because I was waiting for the showstopper—what home makeover shows call “the reveal”—the moment when the report pulled back the curtain on something jaw-dropping.
Mayor Adams and Governor Hochul are both new to their respective positions, and neither is regarded as a deep thinker on urban design and development issues. So they brought in adult supervision. Daniel Doctoroff, who headed up Sidewalk Labs’ failed technology-driven neighborhood for Toronto, was coaxed out of a self-imposed retirement to cochair a study with Richard R. Buery Jr., a deputy mayor in the de Blasio administration, and a diverse, opinionated panel of fifty-seven other “civic leaders and industry experts.” Then all these disparate voices were distilled into something repetitive, tediously platitudinous, and as oddly uninspiring as that fat Toronto plan. Which, of course, is governmental thinking in a nutshell.
Read more about the illusive New New York here.
Our Catty Corner columnist ponders the war on cars.
by Eric Schwartau
I once told my therapist I feel most like myself when I’m driving. And yet, there I was, living a lie as a carless New Yorker. Soon after that breakthrough moment, I broke up with my therapist, bought a car, and now I’m healed. Haha, just kidding! Unless…
I know what you’re thinking: Men will literally buy a car instead of going to therapy. But what if driving could be seen as a form of therapy, helping us reconnect with our thoughts, heighten our awareness, and reclaim our concentration?
Read more about city driving here.
New York Review of Architecture reviews architecture in New York. Our Editor is Samuel Medina and our Deputy Editor is Marianela D’Aprile. Our Publisher is Nicolas Kemper.
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