Saturday, December 06, 2008

Museum of the Rust Belt

New York City has a new museum. No, I'm not talking about the Big Apple's underhanded attempt to wrest the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame away from Cleveland. The Museum of Arts and Design opened earlier this fall. Normally, I wouldn't be aware of such fanfare. I learned about the museum in the last article of a series in the New York Times about the City's Landmarks Preservation Commission. Cities themselves are museums, including the isolated pockets of blight and decay:

In the late 1960s Smithson photographed the industrial ruins around his birthplace, Passaic, N.J., christening them as monuments. In the early 1970s Matta-Clark staged illegal “interventions” in some of the same Bronx neighborhoods that Mr. Mortenson was to visit, slicing whole sculpturelike sections from the floors and walls of abandoned tenements.

Mr. Mortenson’s first photographic explorations of this sort took him to the Meadowlands in New Jersey, where nature and industrial decay met in epic combat. Toward the end of the years he spent exploring the swamps he began taking the elevated subway lines through the Bronx and looking out at the rubble that many neighborhoods had been reduced to. As a child growing up in Delaware, he loved spending time alone walking through forests and fields, and he said he thought of the Meadowlands and then the Bronx in the same way.

“I could spend hours walking around some blocks without seeing anyone,” he said. He would wander around Charlotte Street, one of the South Bronx’s bleakest, which President Jimmy Carter had made infamous in a 1977 visit. (It is now in a suburblike neighborhood of neat single-family homes built not many years after Mr. Mortenson’s photographs were taken.)

Très Rust Belt Chic.

Sean Corcoran, the curator of prints and photographs at the Museum of the City of New York, said he was drawn to the images in part because of the tension in them between art and history. “The act of framing and capturing an image from the world is inherently transformative,” he wrote in the catalog for the show, which runs through March 8. “Yet the pictures also provide an important record of a moment in time.”

Mr. Corcoran writes that they insistently ask the question: “How could things get to this point? What political, economic and cultural shifts could lead to such a collapse?”

What is archive for New York City is today's Rust Belt landscape. There should be a museum where we house the tension "between art and history." I want one place where the world can explore the shrinking city and the postindustrial apocalypse. I want to be able to visit one city and learn all about urban failure and revitalization. I don't think that museum should be in New York City.

Where would you build the Rust Belt Museum?

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