April 23, 2021

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Manhattan as a Muse | The New Yorker

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The history of a single square foot of Manhattan can yield lifetimes of information. In “Decoding Manhattan,” a coffee-table book to be published later this month, the editors Antonis Antoniou and Steven Heller don’t dutifully outline or summarize the island’s history or geography—rather, they revel in the flights of fancy that Manhattan has inspired. They mix eras, genres, and media to tell a multifaceted story about an infinitely layered place.

The sheer amount of specific detail and ephemera that the authors have gathered—for a city that changes so rapidly—is heartening proof that, even as a new stratum of the city devours the one that came before it, there’s some kind of human order to it all. A diagram shows the timelessness of a day at the MOMA, another details what exactly lay underneath the street at the intersection of Sixth Avenue and Fiftieth Street in July of 1939—just in case you were wondering. Other pages hint at worlds that have been bulldozed into fragments of memory: the pneumatic system of the Western Union Telegraph Company, from 1885, is a reminder of a vanguard of communication, long before texts and e-mails came to be. “Decoding Manhattan” is a loving excavation of a singular city, and a reminder to keep your eyes open as you walk around Manhattan, a place where idiosyncratic treasures can pop out of the ground every day.

See below for a few pages from the book:

Louis Biedermann’s illustration in “How Far Can New York Climb Into the Sky?” from The World Magazine, January 20, 1907.Courtesy Nicholson Baker
The pneumatic system of the Western Union Telegraph Company, from Scientific American, February 14, 1885.
Emil Lowenstein’s “This Is What Lies Under the Surface,” from Fortune, July, 1939.
Vera Block’s illustration in “History of Civic Services in the City of New York,” from a series of “Water Supply” posters for the Federal Art Project, 1936.Library of Congress
Constantin Aladjalov’s “The Museum of Modern Art: A Cross-Section of Its Exuberant Life,” from Vogue, 1945.© Condé Nast

This excerpt is drawn from “Decoding Manhattan: Island of Diagrams, Maps, and Graphics,” by Antonis Antoniou and Steven Heller, out this month from Abrams.

Françoise Mouly, Genevieve Bormes
2021-04-04 06:00:00

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