Joshua McHugh is a friend and one of the most sought after interior photographers in New York. His delightful new Rizzoli book – Murals of New York City – in collaboration with Glenn Palmer-Smith and Graydon Carter is about to hit stores. New York is full of incredible works of art, many in public spaces or places open to the public, but often those of us who live here race by them in a whirl of frenzy taking little notice. Joshua brings his incredible talent of photography to give us a glimpse at some of these magnificent works.
Throughout the past 100 years patrons of the arts in New York City have commissioned some of the greatest 20th century artists to paint monumental works of art to decorate our public buildings. The Hispanic Society of America – located at Broadway and 155th Street – has what could be the most beautiful series of murals in any public library. Painted by the great Spanish artist Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida (1863-1923) between 1911 and 1916, the series entitled “The Provinces of Spain” captures the national costumes of the different regions of Spain just before the First World War and the modern era turned us all into Levi’s wearing clones. The colors are vibrant and a recent restoration means that they now appear exactly as the artist envisioned them. It is definitely worth a trip to upper Manhattan to view the murals and the collections of the Society.
In 1932, the Harlem YMCA was built as a new cornerstone of the neighborhood and famed African American artist Aaron Douglas (1898-1979) was invited to create a mural reflecting this rich center of Black culture. His mural “Evolution of Negro Dance” is a testament to the Harlem Renaissance, which blossomed at this time. The scene presents silhouettes of figures at a party in full swing accompanied by a jazz band. You can feel the rhythm and almost hear the music. There is a clear appreciation and understanding of modernist art in the stark angular figures. What makes it slightly unusual is that the mural is painted in shades of greens, making it an amazingly haunting scene.
Murals of New York City also presents the work of Ludwig Bemelman’s (1898-1962), primarily known as the man who brought to life the world of Madeline and the girls at Miss Clavel’s school in Paris. His only public work is found in the (more adult friendly) Bemelman’s Bar at The Carlyle Hotel on the Upper East Side – one of my favorite watering holes. With the same playfulness that filled the children’s books, his “Central Park” fills the room with scenes in New York’s most famous outdoor meeting place. You can visit the bar a hundred times and always find a new vignette to study. Joshua has captured one where properly dressed little monkeys look in on a rather rotund caged gentleman. And yes, Madeline and gang make an appearance too.
Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997) was commissioned in 1984 to paint a mural for the atrium of the AXA Building at Seventh Avenue and 51st Street. The result is the massive five-story high “Mural with Blue Brushstroke” which reads as a primer of the artist’s career as it incorporates highlights and aspects of earlier works. Best of all, the mural is visible to everyone passing on the street outside. I have always admired this work because it is a wonderful example of a corporation sharing its spoils with the community. Many a time I have been speeding down Seventh Avenue in a taxi and have caught a glimpse of this iconic work that always makes me smile.
Joshua McHugh’s photography book Murals of New York City presents around 30 notable murals in the City (yes a surprise to me too!), giving us another reason to put down the iPhone or tablet and get out to explore the world outside our door.
richard rabel: interiors + art
interior design and art advising
new york city
image credits: Joshua McHugh, New York