The photography exhibit at Southampton’s Parrish Museum is an extraordinary effort from its creator and organizer, Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel.
This show, “The Landmarks of New York,” must surely be a landmark itself, with its innumerable pictures on display. (The accompanying book by the same name, from which the images were taken, contains even more photographs.) The book is understandably big, comprehensive and concise, a testament to both the City and the author, who was New York’s first Director of the Office of Cultural Affairs. Even so, Diamonstein-Spielvogel has persisted through all these years, preserving Manhattan’s historical legacy: her position as Vice-Chair of the New York State Council on the Arts is one such example of this commitment.
Beyond the excellent pictures and insightful data gracing the book’s pages, there is another dimension that the author has unearthed, subtle as it may be. One doesn’t have to be an historian to recognize that the photographs have value for both the individual reader and gallery viewer in the case of the exhibit. We hear ourselves thinking, “I know that building; I pass it every day.” Or, “I once stayed in that hotel.” Simply put, the book and the exhibit are not merely studies of urban history. They are a personal walk down memory lane, at least for some people.
Here’s why. This critic can trace important life passages by looking at photographs, for example, of certain hotels/apartments. First, there’s the Plaza (built 1905-07) where cavorting around the fountain (or IN the fountain) was a cool thing to do as a college student. Taking one’s daughter there on her 16th birthday for a “Shirley Temple” drink was another. Reserving a room for parents at the Plaza to meet their daughter’s future in-laws was special as well. How about the Dakota Apartments (1880-84) where a favorite film (Rosemary’s Baby) was made, and John Lennon got shot? And then there’s the Chelsea Hotel (1883-85) where many visits have been made to check out the weird artwork in the lobby and on the cast iron railings traversing each floor.
How about other buildings like the Winter Garden (1885) where this critic saw her first Broadway play, Peter Pan? For someone who wanted to become an actress, this was no doubt a special treat. So was frequently walking by the Public Theatre (1849-53), home of Joseph Papp’s theatre company and a sacred shrine during the 1960s. The building still serves as an important memory for this critic of dramatic aspirations that have taken a different direction.
Other structures remind this critic of diverse architectural styles, enhancing a love of art: The Puck Building (1885-86) where one can look out the window from the fourth floor and see billboards for high-end ads. The Eldridge Street Synagogue (1886-87) is another building where stained glass windows and Moorish, Gothic and Romanesque architecture make this place, the first built by Eastern European Jews in the area, a salient reminder of one’s roots.
Speaking of roots, both personal and cultural, it’s important to note that all the buildings mentioned here were built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
It seems some people don’t bond with skyscrapers all that much.
“The Landmarks of New York” is on view at the Parrish Museum, 25 Jobs Lane, Southampton, from June 24 – Sept. 4. Call 631-283-2118.
NOTE: Not all of the buildings mentioned here are in the exhibition, but they are all in the book, which is available from State University of New York Press.