In The Realm of Ideas Frank Lloyd Wright called architecture “the truest record of Life as it was lived in the world yesterday, as it is lived today or ever will be lived.” For a while now I’ve lived and worked in New York City, which has more than its share of great architecture moments. I have my favorites, but lately I’ve been thinking more about the “architecture of a New York City neighborhood” moments. Having had the fortune to move around town a few times and work in more than a few different spots, I’ve learned that each new neighborhood has something else on offer—not just something new, but something other.
The building form and design, the scaling up or down from high rise to tenement, the change in materials from cast iron to brownstone—all can make a neighborhood, but really it’s much more than that. It’s street corners and actual streets, curbs, stoop steps, newsstands, parks, subway stations, shops and restaurants, and all that these things signify personally, publicly, or politically.
Like most people, I expect, one of the ways I chronicle the events of my life is through place, and it only took a look at these Jason Crum gouache-on-photograph drawings to transport me to my own private Soho of an earlier time and place.
The buildings related to the works in Crum’s Painting for City Walls series were at 233 E 29 Street; 529 Second Avenue at E 29 Street; 140 Church Street at Chambers; 324 and 340 East 9 Street between First and Second avenues; 441 Lafayette Street at Astor Place; Park Number 10 at Evergreen Avenue in Brooklyn; and Park Number 4 in the Bronx.
I saw only a few of these building paintings, but remember those I saw well. I also remember not being sure exactly how to think of them at first. I’d never seen anything quite like this. Naturally, I’d seen murals, but my expectation of a mural was more or less the badly painted Venice canal scene. I did know about the LA Fine Art Squad and that work was most certainly not badly painted or approaching anything like tourist art, but it was pictorial, and it wasn’t this. I knew “Franklin’s Footpath,” the big Gene Davis street painting, but being in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum gave that context.
These building paintings were just out there in the world. They were New York art—big, smart, exciting abstract pictures loose on the streets of the city. They may no longer be visible on the buildings today, but as thousands of everyday passersby can attest, they have claimed their place in the record.
Two of these Jason Crum gouache-on-photograph drawings are currently on view in 9+1 Ways of Being Political: 50 Years of Political Stances in Architecture and Urban Design, a new installation in MoMA’s third-floor Architecture and Design Galleries.