We hardly know our own monuments. They are scattered throughout a city like a series of bubbles that are entered and then exited. These bubbles are frozen emblems of time and space that are meant to enter and reflect upon. Except maybe if you’re in Paris, or Florence, the entirety of which are monuments. Our own monuments mean something different to us than individuals visiting from far away, but they’re just as strange, just as distant.
I found myself walking through one such bubble on a late afternoon, veering innocently into Rockefeller Center, just to see. I stay away from most tourist hubs for the crowds, but it had rained so the crowds were slightly cleared and I leaned against the marble, overlooking a golden Prometheus and a dripping, overpriced restaurant. I considered Zeus and his "sound" and "light" icons, one male and one female respectively who herald his glory on either side of the front doors to 30 Rockefeller Center. Below his clean, thin lightning bolts reads: “Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times.” How classic. Art historian have theorized that from a mannerist period there would always be a classic successor: a neo-classic to a rococo. I have always believed that art is a reaction to cultural needs, and these needs ebb and flow naturally with time.
Art Deco is the design period of Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building, the Chrystler building, the Bryant Park Hotel, The Western Union building, Eldorado on the Hudson River, and many other buildings are factors in the general makeup of the city. The outer core a tourist's experience of this city is primarily through an Art Deco lens.
The movement that emerged from the whimsical Art Noveau style that, in a similar way, Art Deco to New York, lines Paris like the hem of a dress. But the two differ completely in architectural message. Woven within bold and angular Greek mythical symbolism. Art Deco is both highly masculine and radiant. Through dramatic curves and layered grandeur, the style fulfilled a post-World War I need for social development, for progress and industry. Art Deco's short and impactful era emerged around the same time a powerful urban planner, Robert Moses began to reshape the city, to ultimately make it the very essence of the Art Deco ideal: the city of the Gods, the city of social (white social) progress, industry, and capital.
The identity of New York City was completely shifted during this period, most bridges that are crossed, most expressways driven, and important buildings preside over the city and mark its ideals. And how exhausting it is to keep up this vision. We are living on the heals of the men who planted their seeds in the 1940's. These are solid structures, but just like the lines of potholes curled ominously like rattlesnakes along the FDR, I see a change coming.
Wandering out, I find the fated Atlas, the figure before 630 5th avenue. At first I see anger in his mangled brow as he peers down at the passers by, and then I see amazement in his eyes, a wonder at his own strength - to carry the world.