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'This Is New York' exhibit is a gritty, stylish city celebration

ERIC DEGGANS, HOST:

Some people only know New York City from songs, movies, books and TV shows. NPR's Jennifer Vanasco says a new exhibition uses that pop culture to explore everything that makes New York a city that people both love and love to hate.

JENNIFER VANASCO, BYLINE: Maybe you live here in New York, or maybe you're someone who feels like you've lived here because you've seen it on a screen so often.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "I LOVE LUCY")

LUCILLE BALL: (As Lucy Ricardo) All right, we'll divide the room in half.

VANASCO: The Museum of the City of New York is celebrating its hundredth anniversary. This past century has been rich in pop culture, stretching from silent films and early phonographs to CGI and streaming everything. And then there's paintings and photography and fashion and books. The exhibit "This Is New York" captures it all. Lilly Tuttle is one of the curators.

LILLY TUTTLE: New York is kind of the most American and least American city.

VANASCO: She says how people see New York City is messy.

TUTTLE: It's a crowded, dirty, smelly, rude, cacophonous place, and also glamorous and wonderful and glitzy and fabulous and elegant and cool. It's all in here all at once.

VANASCO: The fictional and the factual blend together in this exhibit like they tend to do in New York. Over here is a lamppost from "Sesame Street;" over there, an Edward Hopper painting set in a lonely movie theater or a photo of boys jumping into the East River or a 1953 film of an elevated train racing through the sky set to Duke Ellington's "Daybreak."

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAIN HORN BLOWING)

VANASCO: Step on an illuminated outline of one of the five boroughs, and you'll hear a song from that borough - a song that's about New York, of course. This one's from Jennifer Lopez. She's from the Bronx.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JENNY FROM THE BLOCK")

JENNIFER LOPEZ: (Singing) I know where I came from.

VANASCO: Or Wu-Tang Clan from Staten Island.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "C.R.E.A.M.")

WU-TANG CLAN: (Rapping) I grew up on the crime side, the New York Times side.

VANASCO: Salt-N-Pepa, Anthony B, The Irish Rovers or, hey, I know you know this one.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRANK SINATRA SONG, "THEME FROM NEW YORK, NEW YORK")

VANASCO: From Manhattan.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THEME FROM NEW YORK, NEW YORK")

FRANK SINATRA: (Singing) Start spreading the news.

VANASCO: In another room, take a book off the shelf, place it on a scanner, and here's Lea DeLaria reading "Harriet The Spy."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LEA DELARIA: (Reading) Harriet looked through her peephole and saw both faces staring right at her.

VANASCO: A third room surrounds you with 16 screens of film clips.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: (As Ratso) I'm walking here.

ANTHONY DESANDO: (As Frank the Dog Walker) How loud is this freaking city?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Taxi.

ESTELLE REINER: (As Older Woman Customer) I'll have what she's having.

SARAH JESSICA PARKER: (As Carrie Bradshaw) Anything's possible. This is New York.

VANASCO: They tell New York's story, which is really a story of destruction and redemption that belongs to all of us, whether you live here or not. Curator Lilly Tuttle says that's thanks to the artists who've been inspired by the city.

TUTTLE: Once you move away from, you know, the hot dogs and the pizza and the dirty apartments and the subway, it's like, no, this city will always rise again because of the creativity that we're celebrating in this exhibition.

VANASCO: Jennifer Vanasco, NPR News, New York City.

(SOUNDBITE OF HIP HOP BEATS' "EMPIRE STATE OF MIND (INSTRUMENTAL)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jennifer Vanasco
Jennifer Vanasco is an editor on the NPR Culture Desk, where she also reports on theater, visual arts, cultural institutions, the intersection of tech/culture and the economics of the arts.