It’s been a tough year for New York museums. But even without cultural institutions, there is free world-class art to see all over the city, as writer and curator Lori Zimmer shows in her new book, .
The author began writing an art blog when she got laid off from her Chelsea gallery job during the 2008 recession. And when she set out to write a book about her favorite hidden-in-plain-sight New York City artworks, she enlisted Maria Krasinski, a childhood friend, to illustrate.
The whimsical drawings are at times nostalgic, depicting well-loved landmarks like Wall Street’s , by Arturo Di Modica; the famed Astor Place Cube (officially dubbed ) by sculptor Tony Rosenthal; and New York’s version of Robert Indiana’s seminal sculpture.
But even for the seasoned New York City art lover, there are surprises: the elevator bank at 505 Fifth Avenue, for instance, features a James Turrell light installation, the colors constantly changing. (Visitors technically need an appointment to enter the building, and you’ll need to be quick to catch a glimpse.)
Zimmer also highlights the former residences of some of the city’s most famous artists, including Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, and a number of great artworks that are no longer with us, such as Richard Serra’s much-maligned . And for those eager to explore these gems for themselves, there are even itineraries for walking tours—a perfect way to see art in the age of social distancing.
We spoke with Zimmer about her favorite art in New York, putting together the book, and how she wants to make everyone feel like an expert.
What is your favorite artwork in the book?
My favorite sculpture has always been Jean Dubuffet’s in Lower Manhattan.
The piece with the most nostalgia for me is Christopher Janney’s , on the NR [subway station] platform at 34th Street. I accidentally “discovered” it my first week in New York in 1999 when I was interning at magazine. I was waiting for the N [train] and saw someone touch what I thought was the vent above the track. Soon the platform was engulfed with sounds of the jungle. I reached up myself and sounds of a marimba rang out. I remember thinking, “Wow, New York just gives art to the people like this?”
What were you most surprised to learn while researching the artworks in this book?
That John Singer Sargent cofounded an art school in Grand Central Terminal on the seventh floor. (He also cofounded the Grand Central Art Galleries, which was on the sixth floor [of the station] for 29 years.)
The Grand Central School of Art was open from 1924 to 1944, with instructors like Arshile Gorky, Daniel Chester French, Harvey Dunn, and Dean Cornwell. I rather like the idea of Grand Central being a cultural center, rather than a chaotic portal to weekend getaways.
What do you hope readers will get out of this book?
When I was writing the book, I wanted to show that art is everywhere and for everyone, not just in museums and galleries. I want readers to look at the city with new perspective, to walk by the door that Andy Warhol walked out of every day, to have a drink where Dalí entertained, to feel a connection with the incredible history of the city.
This is also why I had Maria Krasinski illustrate the book, rather than use photographs. I feel illustrations fuel our imaginations and bring these narratives to life. I also wanted people to be able to feel like experts, to be able to show their friends there’s a room of dirt in the middle of the shops of SoHo (Walter DeMaria’s ), or a sound installation in the middle of Times Square. I wanted readers to feel like these places were theirs, as I feel like they are mine.
How has the way you think about this book changed over the past eight months?
I never would have imagined the book would come out during such a weird time. But, with the inability to travel abroad anytime soon, I am hoping that New Yorkers will have a chance to rediscover their city in this forced slow down.
With the city so quiet, I’ve found myself going to places that New Yorkers avoid because they are usually swamped with tourists, like Rockefeller Center. It has been really amazing to be able to take my time with the artworks there, without getting caught up in a current of thousands of people walking every which way.
And many of the pieces and narratives in the book are outdoors, which actually ended up being sort of perfect.