Last year, the City of New York released a huge trove of tax data to the public. Called Property Land Use Tax Lot Output (PLUTO), the information might not seem terribly thrilling, a dry assortment of building dates, square footage, and property value, but for those looking to map the city’s history and potential future it is an incredible resource.
“There are so many sounds in museums that we usually ignore that are absolutely engrossing once you take the time to focus on them,” says artist John Kannenberg, who’s been recording museum noise for 15 years.
Madeline, the smallest of the “twelve little girls in two straight lines” who lived in “an old house in Paris that was covered in vines,” was born in Manhattan. In Pete’s Tavern on Irving Place in 1938, Ludwig Bemelmans scrawled those first rhyming lines that would introduce his petite heroine of the Madeline books.
The best fiction often succeeds because its creator has constructed a convincing world. By that I don’t mean a place that seems realistic, but rather a world that’s believable because it’s been thought through — pages of notes, characters described down to their beauty marks, the relationships between them, their homes and towns mapped out.
There was much rejoicing among cartography lovers when the New York Public Library’s Lionel Pincus & Princess Firyal Map Division recently released over 20,000 maps for free use.
Back in 1932, a naval historian named Charles O. Paullin and a geographer named John K. Wright published a colossus of cartography called Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States.
If you want to claim a territory, it’s good to have a map to show what’s yours. Defining Lines: Cartography in the Age of Empire at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University examines how maps were a form of political control and public perception by Western colonial powers from the 16th and 20th centuries.
No maps remain from the Ancient Greeks and Romans, yet we know that they looked to the stars and to the widening world around them and responded with their own influential cartography.
People in New York City seem to have a particular fixation with mapping the past.
The New York Public Library’s 1510 Hunt-Lenox Globe better watch its bronze throne because a new globe portends to be the oldest to show the Americas. And it has the curious advantage of being carved into the round form of an ostrich egg.
John Henry with his hammer, Rip Van Winkle taking a snooze, the Celebrated Jumping Frog rests alongside Coronado scaling a mountain, while Babe the Blue Ox sprints towards the famous Idaho potato. All these figures of American folklore are sprawled across the United States in a 1946 map by artist William Gropper.
When I was a kid, my father kept a dog-eared street map of the Dallas metroplex in his truck’s glove compartment. As a contractor who spent hours driving each day, this atlas was his North Star — a point of reference for navigating the city’s chaotic, concrete sprawl. Today, the cartographic tradition that his homely map belonged to — spanning millenniums from the early Phoenicians to Amerigo Vespucci and Lewis and Clark — is rapidly changing. I now find my way through New York by following a tiny, triangular point on an iPhone screen. In an age of new technology, information, and globalization, maps are no longer mere objects, and they increasingly represent immaterial worlds. This shifting understanding of time and space is reflected in Contemporary Cartographies, a group show at CUNY’s Lehman College Art Gallery in the Bronx.