Many Cities in One: New York, New York! Now at The Hyde
By Anthony F. Hall
Thursday, July 14, 2011
In the fall of 1973, I moved to New York with one year of high school to finish. “Welcome to Fear City,” reads a brochure from that time. The city was broke, unable to pay its police force, its firemen or garbage collectors. Nor could it properly maintain its streets, bridges and subway lines. I was never happier.
That’s why The Hyde’s current exhibition, New York, New York! which portrays the city as multichromatic and vibrant, speaks even to my experience.
Comprised of more than sixty works of art spanning the twentieth century, New York, New York! is an effort to comprehend the multitude of cities that exist within that relatively limited geographical space.
By a “multitude of cities,” I don’t mean the aspects of urban life around which the curators organize the work, such as the harbor and the architecture or the nightlife, or even the competing cities of the investment banker and the immigrant, but the separate cities we carry within us. We can’t help but see the city through subjective lenses. Down every block lie the shadows of things we did there; it’s as though we could revisit them, should we choose to. The art in New York, New York! speaks to and for those personal visions.
Because the exhibition seeks to accommodate a multiplicity of visions, it has no single point of view, at least not an explicit one. If it has an implicit one, I think it must be John Marin’s, the American modernist painter, who wrote of New York in 1913, “I see great forces at work, great movements; the large buildings and the small buildings; the warring of the great and the small; influences of one mass on another greater or smaller mass. Feelings are aroused which give me the desire to express the reaction of these ‘pull forces.’”
Twenty years later, Marin did “express the reaction to these ‘pull forces’” in his cubist paintings, one of which ‘Looking Up Fifth Avenue from 30th Street,” is on view here.
But the “influences of one mass on another greater or smaller mass” are apparent in almost every work on display here, which is probably inevitable, given the architectural vocabulary of Manhattan.
You can see those masses influencing one another in Andreas Feininger’s photographs of bridges and buildings from the 1940s, in Stuart Davis’ exhilarated and exhilarating New York Mural and even in an impressionist painting of the 1920s, Colin Campbell Cooper’s ‘Columbus Circle, New York.”
Mark Tobey’s 1954 painting, “The Avenue” is probably the one work in the show in which you will not see those influences at work, which makes the painting all that much more remarkable.
Far from influencing one another, the shapes in “The Avenue,” are disaggregated or disconnected, as people swirling up an avenue can appear to be. If disconnection suggests an alternative vision of the city, it’s one that many people share.
Mark Tobey is the only mid-century artist represented in this exhibition, which strikes one as odd, since the paintings of the abstract expressionists made New York a global, cultural capital and are what we think of first when we think of New York art.
But no doubt the curators of this show, which comes from the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida, have their reasons, and the lack of mid-century art in New York, New York! in no way detracts from the pleasures of what has been included. Whatever your experience of the city, you will find its essence here.
New York, New York! The 20th Century, will remain on view at The Hyde Collection through September 18. ‘Manhatta,’ the early avant-garde film by Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler, will be shown continuously for the duration of the exhibition.
The Hyde is located at 161 Warren Street in downtown Glens Falls. Call 792-1761 for information.