Magazine article Artforum International

"City Speculations." (Queens Museum of Art, New York, New York)

Magazine article Artforum International

"City Speculations." (Queens Museum of Art, New York, New York)

Article excerpt


Of the two great panoramic views of '60s New York, only one survives intact: the opening credits to the television series That Girl. The other, which goes by the name of the Panorama of the City of New York, was updated for the reopening of the Queens Museum in November 1994. Originally, this 10,000-square-foot model, still the world's largest, was commissioned by Robert Moses for the 1964-65 World's Fair in Flushing Meadows Park and became the fair's central attraction, with its miniaturized five boroughs (one inch equals 100 feet) rendered within a contractually guaranteed one percent margin of error.

That Girl, which postdates the Panorama by two years and perhaps should have been included in this show, never claimed this degree of accuracy. Instead, the opening sequence to this series provides a selective, frenetically paced, 50-second tour of great New York architecture (the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, Columbus Circle, the glass-and-steel boxes of midtown) that only leaves the island of Manhattan once for a tourist's glimpse of Lady Liberty. Otherwise, the camera remains focused on the leading lady as she takes in (and is taken in by) the urban spectacle - from the opening frame that superimposes her face onto the Manhattan skyline to the climactic shot that shows her sashaying through the placards of the recently completed Lincoln Center. If That Girl calls attention to the subject taking temporary possession of the city, the Panorama eschews such mediation, offering the fantasy of a God's-eye view and the complete mastery of the city that comes with it, in its place.

On the occasion of the Panorama's renovation, the Queens Museum invited architects, artists, and planners to produce projects and proposals of their own. "City Speculations," curated by Patricia C. Phillips, might be subtitled "What the Panorama doesn't tell you about New York," if only to suggest that any urban representation illuminates as much as it obscures. Presenting a range of visual strategies and vantage points, this group exhibition challenged the Panorama's monocular vision and fetishization of accuracy while still managing to convey its insidious appeal - the way of thinking and shaping the city espoused by Robert Moses.

If the city belonged to anyone in the postwar era, it was Moses, the power broker responsible for the Grand Central Parkway, the Central Park Zoo, the Triborough Bridge, Jones Beach, Stuyvesant Town, and Flushing Meadows Park, converted from the Corona Landfill to become the site of the 1939 and 1964 World's Fairs. Though the Panorama was never used as a planning tool as Moses intended, it testifies to both the influence one man exercised over New York.

Certain city speculations pay subversive homage to the Moses tradition of megalomaniacal city planning. Keller Easterling's cartoon video Switch, 1995, resurrects Moses' unrealized scheme for a mid-Manhattan elevated expressway - with all its ramps, tunnels, and terminals - in an effort to expose the undeclared effect of this type of structure on the fabric of the city: the production of homogeneous urban enclaves. Switch enacts a "network" architecture that draws historically segregated areas into unexpected social and spatial relations with one another. …

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