The Coffee Table

New York City Books

Two books join the ongoing, relentless celebration of the city as the center of the universe.

Book CoverAs an expatriate Chicagoan trapped in the cosmic psyche experiment of the East Coast, I am loathe to appreciate the ongoing, relentless celebration of New York City as the center of the universe (or to extend Jim Harrison's acute appraisal, the ultimate center of ambition). Happily, German illustrator and graphics pioneer Robinson's (born Werner Kruse) monograph, New York, Line by Line: From Broadway to the Battery (Universe), a facsimile edition of illustrations spurred by his mid-20th-century visit to N.Y.C. using his original "X-ray view" technique (an obvious precursor of graphics programs such as Freehand or Illustrator), overcomes my New York fatigue (content overshadowing subject here) with a wonderful array of line drawings. (Robinson reportedly created more than a quarter of a million illustrations in his lifetime.) Matteo Pericoli observes:
A line isn't just a line. Lines do not exist in reality. And out of a world of millions of options...a line is ultimately placed where the artist chooses. It's a creative process, one that doesn't aim at representing reality per se, but one that wants to tell it. As a writer selects each word he will use, Robinson's lines are not randomly placed; the one at the center of the composition, right where the eye falls first has gone through the same decision making process as the one at the edge...
Well, you get the idea.

Book CoverThis year New York City celebrates its 400th anniversary of English explorer Henry Hudson's arrival on the shores of the river named after him. In New York 400: A Visual History of America's Greatest City (Running Press), the Museum of the City of New York (oh boy, in New York there are museums for everything) has collected a bunch of, uh, stuff commemorating and annotating four centuries of history, including essays illuminating that history. Not surprisingly, Mayor Bloomberg opines, "The history of New York is in many ways the history of America," and seems to suggest all Americans are New Yorkers. Historian Mike Wallace's take is measured, observing N.Y.C. as a "crucible of culture high and low." It's a sumptuous 500-page tome for those who like this kind of thing.
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