If you were to pick one object that embodies life here in New York City, what would it be? Not monuments like the Empire State Building surely, or Yankee Stadium, Rockefeller Center, the Brooklyn Bridge… those and a hundred other icons may be emblematic at postcard-y level, but they also really belong to the world. No what I’m talking about are the things that have become a part of OUR daily landscape; the humble objects that, for true New Yorkers (whether life-long or newly-arrived), can instantly evoke day-to-day living here in the big town.
The black “bodega umbrella”? That same umbrella, broken and left in disgust at the curb? Those haunting, brilliantly simple ghost bikes? The skyline-enhancing water towers? The stainless steel (extremely-non-artisanal) coffee carts? The creaky stairs of a five-story walkup? The mica-flecked Manhattan schist, the bedrock of the island that makes the whole thing possible? These are the sorts of “quintessentially NYC” things that become imbued with our individual, personal stories, and that are focus of Masterpieces of Everyday New York: Objects as Story, a terrific summer-long exhibition at the street-level gallery at Parsons The New School.
Masterpieces of Everyday New York features 62 objects personally selected by members of the New School faculty, whether designers, artists, anthropologists, sociologists, historians, writers, or musicians. The one thing these people have in common? They are New Yorkers, and they have a story to tell. Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani, for example, offers the once-vital phone booth (“These ubiquitous booths weren’t beautiful, nor did they always work, but they provided a (sometimes false) sense of privacy in public for conversations, scribbling messages, drunkenness, exhaustion”). Visual Culture Associate Professor Margot Bouman’s contribution is the “Homeless Home”, those cardboard sleeping shelters that, as Bouman observes, follow a predictable “construction-and-demolition” schedule in their public locations.
Things resonate differently for different people, obviously, and some of the items here I had never even heard of, like the Hand Grenade Savings Bank, which apparently was hugely popular with kids around 1918. On the other hand, Ivan Raykoff’s video of the journey up to his Fifth Floor Walkup slammed me with memories of long-departed people and places, but if you’ve never lived or hung out in an apartment like this, your connection will obviously be a good deal less dramatic than mine. Most of all, it’s just fun to see what everyone picked as the defining NYC item (the Gum Dots that speckle our sidewalk! those mysterious DEP “Water Sampling Stations”!), and to think of what YOU would choose.
Masterpieces of Everyday New York: Objects As Story will be at the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Gallery (the street level one), at Parson The New School, through September 4. The entrance is on 13th Street just west of Fifth Avenue, and the gallery is open every day from 12:00 noon until 6:00 p.m., and on Thursdays until 8:00. More information can be found here.