With a series of map-making workshops at the Museum of Modern Art less than a week away, I’d like to share some maps of New York City from the archive. While the workshops are not specifically focused on drawing maps of the city, we will be using the museum as a point of reference. This has led me to spend some time thinking about the general geography of the area and how we navigate our way through it as well as how the museum reflects the city surrounding it.
John Hutchison’s map reveals what happens to many of us when traveling in New York. We exit a train somewhere underground and gradually find our way to the surface. While emerging from the cavernous spaces below-ground can be disorienting, New York can be fairly easy to navigate once you reach the street level.
This easy navigation is thanks to the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811 which defined much of Manhattan with a regular, consistently numbered grid of streets. As New York grew, the grid extended to other parts of the city though not in quite as regular a fashion.
Janine Nichols reveals this regularity through a series of vertical divisions. She highlights important streets and landmarks from her life in 1980’s New York. It features references to, among other things, her job at 30 Rockefeller Center (floating between 49th and 50th streets), her boyfriend at the time joining the Unification Church (indicated by the term “Moonie’s”), and the Twin Towers near her home as they looked at night.
At age 7, Sammy Muench mapped the five boroughs of New York City. He takes us high above the metro area providing an expansive view of the surrounding region. Through the use of big, bold marks, he also captures a sense of the city’s chaotic order.
The title of this post, I know you love Manhattan, but you ought to look up more often, is from Frank O’Hara’s poem “A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island.” In it, O’Hara imagines a conversation with the sun who chides the poet for not looking up enough to acknowledge the world above the street level. While viewing Sammy’s map, we take on the gaze of the sun staring down on the entire New York area. We can even focus on Fire Island in the far right margin of the drawing where O’Hara was lazily lounging in his poem.
It is worth noting the connection between Frank O’Hara and the Museum of Modern Art. Before his untimely death in 1966, he worked at the museum first as a front desk clerk and later as a curator. The recently renovated MoMA includes an entire room devoted to O’Hara and notes his practice of writing poetry while on his lunch break. It is an important tribute that brought a smile to my face when I recently visited the new permanent collection.
The Museum of Modern Art features prominently in Shaffer’s map above. In it, she strips away the grid of the city to focus our attention on a series of specific events that took place as she visited MoMA in 2010. We also get a sense of how navigating a city while underground results in much of it being mysterious. Here the white space between Midtown in the upper left and the Lower East Side in the bottom right represents the unknown city experienced from inside a subway car.
If you are in New York, please consider joining the HDMA for one of our map-making workshops in MoMA’s new Creativity Lab. Three of the sessions take place during Free Friday Nights with the remaining workshops on Saturdays. If you aren’t in New York, consider sending us a map documenting your visit to a museum near you.