New York: Capital City of Art?

On December 12, 2012 by Andrea Magee Steedman

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New York is generally accepted as the center of the Universe of art. Oh sure, Los Angeles wants to claim it’s a rival, but no one is really fooled. Paris and London still pretend they’re it, but no one has been buying it since World War II. So flying on the red eye to New York, I was excited. I was going to see all that art in person, and I was going to be part of the art world in The City, capital T, capital C.
I was flying across the country to speak in a conference at The School of Visual Arts. This school wasn’t anything like my sprawling suburban alma maters. This department of the school was on the sixth floor in Chelsea, and it housed a library donated by art legend Leo Steinberg. I was intimidated the minute I walked in. The students, however, were not unlike the ones I knew. Bright and engaged, of course, but most students I’d known in my grad program had been that. There was some big ideas in that little room, but also some pretention, and definitely self-importance, along with hardworking students that I’m sure I’ll read about in Art Forum at some point. The most engaging part of speaking in a conference with people that share your passion, though, is feeling your ideas bounce off theirs, and become something new and different. Seeing your thoughts in a new light when mirrored back by someone else. And feeling something new sparked by something someone says.
The other best feeling is walking into a room and seeing Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon staring down at you, imposing and frightening in its beauty. The Museum of Modern art fits so many celebrated works into such a small space, the viewer barely has time to appreciate one before turning around and being confronted with another one. My first glimpse of Les Desmoiselles was from the next room, when I turned from viewing a lovely Van Gogh, only to see The Starry Night shining in all its humble beauty on the backside of a freestanding wall. I felt I was almost tripping over art—quite literally in case of the famous Carl Andre piece.
In my way too-quick turn around trip to New York, I found myself quite taken with the city, in the way romantic way that I felt about Paris. The winter light shone through the trees in a certain way, the old brownstones shading the streets, and the people in coats and scarves made me feel like I was in a black and white movie with Cary Grant or Ingrid Bergman.
Is New York the center of the art universe? No other city houses as good a collection of Rauschenberg or Johns pieces, but I think New York has the same things a lot of cities have: People who are passionate about art, good museums, and lots of artists struggling to get by. Nothing you can’t find in other places, but then again… none of them are New York.

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