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False Imitation

“[…] Governor Cuomo praised the design of the broad, bland new stations to the New York Times as a “public space where community can gather and where culture and shared civic values are celebrated,” and, at a news conference, predicted that “this is just the beginning of a new period of rebirth.”

What actually happened was that the design of the new subway stations was outsourced to assorted stars of the modern art world, most of whom not one New Yorker in ten thousand would likely recognize by name or achievement. One of them, Chuck Close, filled his station with mosaic portraits of “New York artists who have formed Mr.Close’s wide circle,” which includes Lou Reed and Kara Walker along with Cecily Brown, Philip Glass, Alex Katz, several younger artists he favored, and two self-portraits.

The artist Vik Muniz did Close one better, providing three dozen images of various friends, relatives, and cultural celebrities dressed up, reported the Times, like “normal people,” including “the restauranteur Daniel Boulud holding a bag with a fish tail sticking out; the designer, actor, and man-about-town Waris Ahluwalia”; and Mr.Muniz himself, “in a Rockwell-esque scene of him tripping, spilling papers from his briefcase,” as well as his son, dressed “in a tiger suit, like a Times Square mascot on lunch break.” Isn’t it marvelous? The artists are depicting themselves and their celebrity friends imitating us, waiting for a train and doing all the perfectly ordinary things that we ordinary people do?

The Death of a Once Great City, by Kevin Baker (Harper’s, July 2018)