To celebrate its 50th birthday, New York magazine invited 50 New York artists to design covers for the magazine. The first program in its year-long “My New York” series of special events and “activations,” 50 New York Covers: A Public Art Project will display and distribute the covers “in a variety of formats and sizes — from wild postings to street lamp banners” throughout all five boroughs, according to an official announcement, culminating in a gallery exhibition in the fall. The first eight covers — featuring designs by Mel Bochner, John Giorno, Alex Katz, Barbara Kruger, Marilyn Minter, Yoko Ono, Rob Pruitt, and Hank Willis Thomas — were revealed this week, with the rest to be rolled out in batches throughout the year.
New York Media, which publishes the magazine, worked with Culture Corps to find artists “with a meaningful relationship to New York, whose work could translate successfully to the confines of a magazine cover, who might be excited about engaging the idea of New York City, and in aggregate a diverse portrait of the New York City artistic community,” David Haskell, the company’s Editor for Business and Strategy, told Hyperallergic in an email. “The direction was to make a cover that reflects what New York City looks like to them now. We always try to avoid clichés with our covers — things like apples and Statues of Liberty — and so we gave the same guidance to the artists, though in some cases they played with clichés and came up with something very witty. (Like, say, Rob Pruitt.) And in general we encouraged the artists to make a cover that communicated an idea — to use their visual language to make a statement.”
Rob Pruitt’s play on clichés involved re-articulating a well-worn phrase with emoji. “I started by thinking about Milton Glaser because he is the designer of the New York magazine logo and also the designer of I <3 NY,” Pruitt told Hyperallergic in an email. “I started with those two things and then I thought about our devices and that this is how we consume media these days, as opposed to the printed page. Like everybody, I love emojis and was especially interested in how with this limited set we can create a language that imbues messages with our own personalities.”
Of the first eight covers, half are of a text-heavy, overtly political nature, particularly Marilyn Minter’s “Home of the Resistance,” Barbara Kruger’s “Prump Tutin,” and Hank Willis Thomas’s “All Lies Matter” (Mel Bochner’s “Obliterate” is a bit more open to interpretation).
“Since the 2016 election, I’ve been working to make the Trump presidency as short as possible,” Marilyn Minter told Hyperallergic in an email. “I’ve been working behind steamed and frozen glass since 2009. I like the accidents that happen as the frozen glass starts to melt. … My model is my friend and co-conspirator on Anger Management at the Brooklyn Museum. Her name is Andrianna Campbell and she is an art historian and curator.”
In a phone interview with Hyperallergic, Hank Willis Thomas said he came up with the idea of eliminating the “v” from the “All Lives Matter” slogan in a kind of eureka moment. “Thinking about what comes to mind when I think of New York, there’s all this complexity,” he said. “There’s the New Yorker-in-chief — the president the slogan speaks to — and then the mythology New York is built on.” Thomas explained the New York mythology as the brashness of the people and the mystery of the city that never sleeps. “It’s where truth and deception are constantly in flux,” he said.
“I suppose it’s not surprising that a lot of artists chose to make a political statement,” Haskell noted. “What I like about the collection so far is the range of emotion that’s expressed: from anger to joy to cynicism to defiance to a very intimate kind of solitude. I think you’ll see more of all of that in the months to come.”
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