Synopses & Reviews
Since its founding in 1898, the Art Commission of the City of New York (ACNY) has served as the cityand#8217;s aesthetic gatekeeper, evaluating all works of art intended for display on city property. And over the years, the commissionand#8217;s domain has expanded dramatically to include everything from parks and courthouses to trash cans and sidewalks. In ThePolitics of Urban Beauty, Michele H. Bogart argues that this unprecedented authority has made the commission host to some complex negotiationsand#8212;involving artists, architects, business leaders, activists, and politiciansand#8212;about not only the role of art in urban design, but also the shape and meaning of the city and its public spaces.and#160;
A former vice president of the ACNY, Bogart tells its story here from an insiderand#8217;s perspective, tracing the commissionand#8217;s history from its origins as an outgrowth of progressive reform to its role in New Yorkand#8217;s reconstruction after 9/11. Drawing on archival correspondence, drawings, and photographs from commission collections, Bogart presents bracing examples of worksand#8212;ranging from New Deal murals to Louis Kahnand#8217;s unbuilt Memorial to Six Million Jewish Martyrsand#8212;that illuminate the ACNYand#8217;s subtle yet powerful role in shaping New Yorkand#8217;s identity.and#160;
The Politics of Urban Beauty is thus a fascinating history of a New York art world that paralleledand#8212;and sometimes unpredictably intersected withand#8212;the more familiar realm of prominent architects, painters, galleries, and museums. Bogartand#8217;s fresh view adds a critical dimension to our understanding of and#8220;the city beautifuland#8221; and makes an important and lively contribution to the study of art history, urban design, and New York City itself.
and#8220;The Art Commission of the City of New York and#8216;reviews all works of art designed for City propertyand#8217; from benches and streetlamps called street furniture to works of art placed on city buildingsand#8217; walls as well as in the parks. The history is fascinating and some of the descriptions of the participants fighting with the art commission are hilarious. I recommend The Politics of Urban Beauty
. Itand#8217;s easy and delightful reading and you will learn a lot.and#8221;andlt;Edward I. Koch,
former mayor of New York Cityandgt;
and#8220;Outstanding. The Politics of Urban Beauty
will be the definitive history of the Art Commission of the City of New York. The depth of the research is remarkable, as is Bogartand#8217;s ability to narrate a highly complex story of New York politics and culture.and#8221;andlt;Max Page, author of The Creative Destruction of Manhattan
and#160;and#8220;Who decides how a city and#8216;looksand#8217;? In Paris, itand#8217;s been the government. In New York, itand#8217;s been moreand#160;a free-for-all, with contending classes and cultures battling to leave their stylistic mark on the metropolitan landscape. Still, for a century now, as Michele Bogart argues in this intriguing study, a major player in the aesthetic wars has been a municipal agency called the art commission, whose decisions on everything from mailboxes to monuments have had an outsized (and largely beneficial) impact on Gothamand#8217;s public appearance.and#8221;
and#8220;Eminently readable, Michele H. Bogartand#8217;s political analysis of design excellence relates tales, familiar and obscure, of the transformation of our cityand#8217;s character and aesthetic quality through the efforts of the Art Commission of the City of New York.and#160; From controversies about newsstands, signage, and memorials, to debates over parks, public art, and major public buildings, The Politics of Urban Beauty
candidly speaks of the dramatic circumstances under which projects get built or blocked. Along with the passion of an engaged participant, former art commission member Bogart brings an historical perspective that edifies, clarifies, and excites any reader of the urban scene.and#8221;
"As [Bogart's] tightly written account demonstrates, despite the high aims of the Art Commission, politics has generally triumphed over art."
"It is an informative work with fascinating and little known facts and adds much to our understanding of how actors create urban environments. Using concrete artifacts as point of entry, it provides new leads for researching power, organizational process, and aesthetic sensibilities."
"Bogart successfully demonstrates how the longevity of the ACNY as an administrative body is due to the ability of it commissioners to reconcile their transcendent visions of municipal beauty with a willingness to admit the political, pragmatic and cooperative nature of their work."
"Bogart combines shrewd historical analysis with pragmatic experience. Her book is rich with information. . . . This volume should provide a mandatory starting point for any study of work in New York City's public realm and also serve as a model (perhaps a cautionary one) for writing about such bodies elsewhere."
"In telling the story of the ACNY (Art Commission of the City of New York), this book makes an important contribution to our udnerstanding of urban history and design."
"I would strongly recommend this book, and not only to those with a prior interest in the arts. This is the story of how one city has shaped its public built environment, and in its tales of monuments, murals, and mailboxes one can discern a full history of a city's social and political transformation."
About the Author
Michele H. Bogart is professor of art history at Stony Brook University. She was vice president of the Art Commission of the City of New York from 1999 to 2003 and is a member of an advisory group to the commission. She also is the author of Public Sculpture and the Civic Ideal in New York City, 1890and#8211;1930 and Artists, Advertising, and the Borders of Art, both published by the University of Chicago Press.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
1. From Chaos to Structure in New York's Public Aesthetic Realm
2. In Search of Visual Culture
3. Monuments, Place, and Municipal Identity
4. Culture Wars
Appendix A: The ACNY and Monument Conservation
Appendix B: The Approval and Selection Processes