Posts Tagged ‘art in New York City’

A controversial mural depicts an unequal city

March 18, 2013

In 1931, the two-year-old Museum of Modern Art planned a show that would feature the work of Mexican painter Diego Rivera. Known for his socially critical murals in Mexico City, Rivera hunkered down inside a museum studio and created five new murals for the exhibition.

One of those murals, “Frozen Assets,” caused a stir at the time. It was the depths of the Great Depression, and Rivera had something to say about how the city treats its assets.


“The panel’s upper register features a dramatic sequence of largely recognizable skyscrapers, most completed within a few years of Rivera’s arrival in New York,” states this caption on MOMA’s website.

Diegorivera“In the middle section, a steel-and-glass shed serves as a shelter for rows of sleeping men, pointing to the dispossessed labor that made such extraordinary growth possible during a period of economic turmoil. Below, a bank’s waiting room accommodates a guard, a clerk, and a trio of figures eager to inspect their mounting assets in the vault beyond.”

That shelter Rivera depicted was the Municipal Lodging House, built in 1909 on a pier on East 25th Street for indigent men, women, and children.

“Rivera’s jarring vision of the city—in which the masses trudge to work, the homeless are warehoused, and the wealthy squirrel away their money—struck a chord in 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression,” states MOMA.

MOMA exhibited Frozen Assets and other works by Rivera in 2011, also a year of rising concern about economic equality.

A fresh blanket of snow on a New York block

January 22, 2012

Robert Henri painted “Snow in New York” in 1902. Writes the National Gallery of Art, where the painting hangs:

“Henri’s Snow in New York depicts ordinary brownstone apartments hemmed in by city blocks of humdrum office buildings. This calm, stable geometry adds to the hush of new-fallen snow.

“The exact date inscribed—March 5, 1902—implies the canvas was painted in a single session. Its on-the-spot observations and spontaneous sketchiness reveal gray slush in the traffic ruts and yellow mud on the horsecart’s wheels.”

Does this Midtown statue look like Mussolini?

January 12, 2012

Recognize this guy? It’s the Art Deco bronze statue of Atlas, the mythological Titan who held up the heavens.

He stands guard outside Rockefeller Center on Fifth Avenue, across from St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

When the statue was unveiled in 1937, some New Yorkers thought they recognized a different face: Benito Mussolini, the Italian fascist dictator.

Naturally this didn’t go over well in the late 1930s. An outcry ensued, and a protest was held.

“The artists, Lee Lawrie and Rene Chambellan, insisted no such tribute was made, and the issue was eventually forgotten,” wrote Brad Dunn and Daniel Hood in New York: The Unknown City.

Mussolini’s wasn’t the only visage some onlookers saw in the statue. “Others claimed the work resembled Christ when viewed from certain angles,” reports The Great Depression in America: A Cultural Encyclopedia, Volume 2.

[top photo from]

The Brooklyn Museum’s hit art exhibit in 1921

July 15, 2011

Alphonse Mucha’s Art Nouveau style became hugely popular in New York and Europe around the turn of the century, thanks in part to his theatrical posters of top actress Sarah Bernhardt.

Czech-born Mucha even lived in the city for a few years, his 1904 arrival trumpeted by the Daily News, which called him “the greatest decorative artist in the world.”

So when the Brooklyn Museum staged a retrospective of Mucha’s drawings, paintings, and posters in early 1921, about 60,000 New Yorkers packed the museum in January and February to see it.

The success of the exhibit may have had to do with the fact that it was free.

“Alphonse Mucha opted to allow free entry rather than charging each visitor fifty cents,” states the website of the Musuem of Art Nouveau and Art Deco in Spain.

“At the time money collected for admission went to the artist, and for Mucha it would have amounted to a very substantial sum.”

Twilight falls over the Flatiron

October 31, 2008

Luxembourg-born American artist Edward Steichen added color to his 1904 photograph of the Flatiron Building, casting it in a moody, blueish glow.   

Completed in 1902, the Flatiron Building is considered one of New York’s first skyscrapers . . . even though it’s only 22 stories high.

Naked women vs. mythic sea creatures

July 25, 2008

From the facade of a pre-war apartment building in Sheridan Square in the West Village.

They’re so unique and dynamic. Must be a story behind why the architect had them put up.