[19 November 2009]
In his introduction to City Out My Window, architect Paul Goldberger observes, “You would think that anyone who would try to draw all of Manhattan Island on a 70-foot-long scroll ... would be someone who preferred the big picture. It is not quite true, however. The key to Manhattan Unfurled isn’t the vastness of its scope, but the intimacy of its vision.” He is referring to an earlier book by artist Matteo Pericoli that unfolds like an accordion to reveal the entire East and West side of Manhattan. Goldberger goes on to describe Pericoli’s gift for homing in on the small and specific, but in some ways, this collection of niche views crystallizes into a perfect depiction of the big picture. The book captures the pictures, moments, methodologies, and musings that occur at every second in every spot of the city every single day. It is a macro microcosm.
In the book, Pericoli draws the views from the apartment of 63 New Yorkers, some famous, some not. The book is almost in blog-like in style. On every left page is text, written by the window’s owner and on every right page is a sketch drawn by Pericoli. The descriptions are as wildly varied as their authors. Producer Caroline Baron writes that her window “provides a structure through which we can dream (and prepare for weather!)” while Mikhail Baryshnikov says merely that the building out his window looks better at night, “like a woman”. While his answer is somewhat humorous and one we might expect from the notorious ladies’ man, some are surprising. Chef and restaurant owner Mario Batali waxes poetic about the ghost of Washington Square. David Byrne suspects that other people have better views and sometimes gets jealous. But regardless of imperfections, one thing is clear. Everyone clings to his view, and in reading the book, we find everyone’s vision worth holding.
In that sense, it is essential that the book is a tangible, physical object. Pericoli has a predilection towards creating books that closely mirror their content. Just as Manhattan Unfurled physically unfurls, City Out My Window is a kind of structural onomatopoeia. A thick cardboard binding conveys the plastery feel of an apartment building window. The front cover is carved in the shape of a window, ensuring at the very least that this book makes a great coffee table piece, especially for lovers of New York City, lovers of art and architecture, and anyone who is fascinated by stories and perspective. Goldberger notes the importance of having a window frame rather than just a piece of glass, and the concept of framing is essential to this book. This is a book about the inevitability of individual opinions and the amorphous space between vision, thought, and belief.
Each page is a snap shot of someone’s entire life. In fact, the book is almost a warped exercises in voyeurism. We aren’t looking into others people’s windows—we are looking out of them. Author John Berendt actually says that looking into someone else’s window would wreck illusion for him; he likes to imagine that his neighbors have more “glamorous” lives than they do. It is also a testament to the intimacy and introspection inherent in a city existence. Each of the authors in the book describes what is technically a physical landscape but it in actuality an inner monologue. The blurbs are confessions of the banalities that attain artistic and emotional import as part of a collection. Part of the what makes the book so striking is that while the views are all depicted by the same artist, the analysis is shockingly different each time. The words “my window” in the title could be interpreted to mean “my worldview.” Each page is a glimpse into the mind of another.
Part of the imaginative quality of the book comes from its simplicity. The pictures themselves have both the quality of a children’s book and an architect’s sketchpad. In a way, that hybrid genre exactly describes the New York Skyline: at times linear, exacting and utilitarian but primarily sneaking, exploding, intangible, and diverse. Perhaps Philip Glass says it best in his exclamation: “The infrastructure of New York in plain view!” Pericoli reveals not just the landscape of the city, but the landscape of the city’s greatest minds. Art is the bones of New York City and in the blood of its inhabitants. Pericoli creates a tapestry out of the inevitable and elegant interplay of people and place.