Photo projects like “Humans of New York” tell some amazing stories that are often forgotten in the chaos of the city. While “Humans” is truly monumental, many other projects exist that fall into the category of “epic New York City art projects that can’t help but touch our jaded little hearts,” as coined by New York Magazine‘s Joe Coscarelli. Giving new meaning to the aphorism, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” here are four other photography endeavors that aim to uncover wondrous parts of NYC’s “Untapped” history. (more…)
The last thing we expect to see on a Department of Sanitation building is classical architecture, much like yesterday’s Greek temple as Manhattan Mini Storage. The Marine Transfer Station (MTS) at Pier 99, extending far into the Hudson, looks shed-like and unremarkable from a boat. But when approached from its entrance at West 59th Street, it raises a few questions. Why is the vehicle clearance structure in front of the building, for example, adorned with some very grand (albeit cheaply) recreated elements from classical architecture? Are they trying to make locals and bicyclists forget that they pass a building that deals with waste every day?
If you’re a regular Art of Style reader, you might recall the column about the prevalence of red coats in the city from a few posts ago. It’s true; they’re everywhere and I never get tired of them. Now that all the fluffy, pristine snow Nemo dumped on us has made the inevitable transformation into big piles of melting grey slush, it’s refreshing to see colorful-coated New Yorkers brightening up the dreariness of the February cityscape.
As my train pulled into the station I saw this lady standing on the platform. Even though my vision was filtered through the grime-encrusted subway window, I loved how the deep red-magenta of her coat and the electric blue of her skinny jeans contrasted against the more muted colors of the tiles in the station wall. The chestnut color of her shoes and the oatmeal of her hat were a nice complement, too. On the rare occasions I put on any article of clothing as bright as this coat or these pants, I usually default to wearing black for the rest of my ensemble, but the two browns she chose definitely added an extra layer of depth to her outfit. I only got a quick few seconds of mental note-taking before my train pulled away again, but I think I got the spirit of her outfit down on paper, if not the exact details.
Every night this February, three minutes before the clock strikes midnight, 15 billboards in Times Square will light up with animated messages of love. These glowing Valentines, scrawled in neon colors over a black surface, are the work of British artist Tracey Emin. “I promise to love you,” writes her invisible hand. And then, “I listen to the ocean and all I hear is you.” (more…)
You’ve seen them everywhere, but probably haven’t given them much thought. Though they once prominently lit up the night, New York’s neon signs are now a fading part of the cityscape. But have you ever wondered about the hidden history behind the signs, and about their gradual disappearance? Thomas Rinaldi’s book New York Neon, just released by Norton, tells the story of New York’s neon signs based on his five-year quest to photograph and document them before they succumb to the ravages of time and perhaps disappear entirely.
Rinaldi begins with the history of illuminated signs, from shadowbox gas lit signs to signs lit by Edison’s incandescent bulbs to the discovery of neon gas by English scientists Sir William Ramsay and Morris William Travers, and Georges Claude’s patenting of neon lights. Claude’s first commercially used neon sign probably appeared in Paris between 1910 and 1912, but historians are still debating the exact date. His first neon sign appeared in New York City in 1924, when he opened Claude Neon Lights, Inc. In the 1920s, neon quickly caught on as many well established companies began using neon signs. The signs became icons of prosperity and progress in the roaring ’20s, when bright lights added to the glitz of the New York nightlife.
As Rinaldi writes, neon signs began to decline with the advent of fluorescent lights, which were less expensive and required less maintenance. Soon enough, the big companies switched to signs that used plexiglass illuminated by fluorescent lights, and neon signs began to take on a seedy connotation. In the span of twenty years, they had gone from characterizing Berenice Abbott’s New York of sparkling skyscrapers to Weegee’s gritty New York of cigarette butts and nighthawks. Today neon signs seem like relics of a not-so-distant past, and the shops that still use them are often family-run businesses that have been in the same neighborhood for generations. Many of the signs are partially broken or illuminated only sporadically, making the need for their documentation important.
Rinaldi’s book offers a fascinating account of the neon signs’ history, as well as information about how they’re designed and produced. Finally, the book contains an exhaustive catalogue of both the lost and remaining signs. To get this information, Rinaldi visited the proprietors of shops that still have neon signs, sometimes traveling to the farthest corners of the city. This tended to be the most difficult, but also–as he said at yesterday’s book talk at the Skyscraper Museum–the most rewarding aspect of the project.
Get in touch with the author @lauraitzkowitz.