New York - Un icono metropolitano
by Julián Zugazagoitía

There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter ? the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these three trembling cities the greatest is the last ? the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is this third city that accounts for New York?s high-strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements. Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion.
E. B. White, Here Is New York, 1949.

New York is often reduced to Manhattan, most likely because this narrow island contains the dreams and passions not only of its five boroughs, but also of the entire world. New York is a city that has constantly experienced feverish change. A matchless embodiment of modernity, this slender and dynamic city oriented toward the future presently mourns over the tragic events of September 11 2001. The attacks that took so many human lives and destroyed the World Trade Center have been forever imprinted on the soul of those who experienced it from near or far.

These attacks bring to light something we new intuitively, but that now has been proved even more accurately: anything that takes place in New York impacts the world. In fact, anyone who has spent a day in New York or that has considered visiting the city has experienced feelings of mourning over the violence of the attacks shown live on TV screens worldwide, and felt maimed by the destruction of the twin towers rendered inseparable from the Manhattan sky1ine. As a foreign trade Babel, they hosted dozens of nationalities. Thousands of people swarm those vertical cities everyday, weaving fabrics and networks involving the many New Yorks and the world. Cities within the city, the towers stood as U.S. flags, as standard-bearers of collective values of a civilization that believes in prosperity, greatness, and symbols.

After September 11, the rereading of Here Is New York by E. B. White, himself one of the historical pillars of the celebrated magazine The New Yorker, causes an impression both for its accuracy and sudden actuality. This short piece written about fifty years ago, within the optimistic post-War environment ? at a time when New York was building the United Nations headquarters? captures into a striking description the essence of what renders New York at once unique, exciting and vulnerable.
White stresses the speed at which the city evolves and is transformed while still remaining faithful to itself and to the underlying principles on which it was built: democracy, equal opportunity, free trade, freedom of thought and worship, tolerance...
A welcoming city par excellence, with the Statue of Liberty as emblem New York embraces with remarkable naturalness the population diversity that forms its society. The sheer magnetism of this island that attracts more people than it can contain forces it to expand vertically and thus achieve its distinctive profile. Without a doubt, the imaginary that spawned Fritz Lang?s Metropolis is uniquely accomplished in Manhattan. The mad rush to erect ever-taller skyscrapers culminated in the Twin Towers of the World Trace Center dethroning the Empire State Building. Their names referred to the spirit that animated them and to the change in perspective along the decades that witnessed their births: from the dominant empire to the nations of commerce and trade.

E.B. White shows his surprise before the survival capacity of this gigantic organism: It is a miracle that New York works at all. The whole thing is implausible. [...] By rights, New York should have destroyed itself long ago, from panic or fire or rioting or failure of some vital supply line in its circulatory system or from some deep labyrinthine short circuit. [...] But the city makes up for its hazards and its deficiencies by supplying its citizens with massive doses of a supplementary vitamin ? the sense of belonging to something unique, cosmopolitan, mighty and unparalleled. A witness of World War II, White is aware of the fragility and seduction that New York can generate. In clairvoyant manner he remarked, ...A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy bum the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now: in the sound of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest edition. [...] in New York the fact is somewhat more concentrated because of the concentration of the city itself and because, of all targets, New York has a certain clear priority. In the mind of whatever perverted dreamer might loose the lightning, New York must hold a steady irresistible charm.

Today his words sound regrettably like an ominous prophecy. In the fifty years that followed White's writing of this piece, New York further nurtured these qualities that make it even more intense and throbbing, thus becoming a trade center in the crossroads of all possibilities. White ended Here Is New York on a humanistic note, trusting that the new league of nations embodied by the U.N. would be strong enough to nail down the "death planes" to the ground. Following the attacks, people's sense of security was shaken; in turn, however, both the feeling of belonging to an incomparable and unique entity and the solidarity of all New Yorkers as well as the international community were intensified in terms of strengthening the ties loosened by the individualism of the last decades. In this sense, the tragedy served to enhance New Yorks iconicity and to point out the uniqueness of this city, both in real terms and in the collective imaginary. New York is neither the country's capital nor a state capital, though in some way it is a center of globalization. Paradoxically as though it may seem, Manhattan is a self-sufficient city, as near and as far from the rest of the United States as from the rest of the world. A hub that at the same time sets apart and brings together, it is a unique and singular place. The events of September 11 have not informed our artist selection, the list having been finalized at the time the events took place. However, our gaze on certain works has been affected as a result. Now the point at issue is the impossibility to disregard the recent attacks and the complex interpretative system that has been imposed on us.

Considering the city as a theme, the artists articulate their dichotomies and tensions between near and far, public and private, the here, the elsewhere, and the interstitial. The relations between nature and city, center and margin, participation and alienation are here addressed in implicit manner. In this sense, New York is clearly much more than the territory of a city; the accumulation of people that inhabit it; the sum of commerce, industry and business activities that make it prosper; the combination of all artistic and sports events; and the sum total of creeds, religions, cultures and languages that make up its soul. As a theme song has it, New York is a state of mind: inaccessible, ever-changing, and indescribable.

At a time when notions of school or style are collapsing, an attempt to capture a Zeitgeist through the selection of five artists would be impossible. In turn, the incomparable position of New York is defined by its status as an island, which forces it to build bridges with the world and makes it not into a capital, but into a "hub," the centermost point of a network. This place New York has invented for itself has less to do with a will to occupy a center position than with the strength of having become a crossroads, or a portal, in WWW terms. More than a place of birth or of residence, it is a passageway, a meeting point. For the artist, New York exerts a fascination that is less associated to any iconography than with its condition as a city inscribed in their intimate circulation network, as a key point of the topology of the world in which they belong. What we have, therefore, is a New York that is as much a homeport as a point of departure, but above all a transition point. The notion of passage or transitoriness is, therefore, key for all artists in this section dedicated to New York. With the express purpose to mix points of origin, points of reference, and generations, we hereby present five artists who have never shown in Buenos Aires: Nancy Davenport, Lucinda DevIin, Doug Hall, Vanessa Beecroft, and Shirin Neshat.