Manhattan skyline: Then and now, and long ago

January 27, 2002|By Lola Alapo | Lola Alapo,Special to the Sun

NEW YORK -- Gol Berna Ozcan, a Turkish woman visiting from London, walked through the museum gallery to a painting of Manhattan in profile, then leaned forward and stared intently.

"It looks like a beautiful piece of jewelry," she said, her brow knitted. "It's almost a mystical feeling to see the skyline."

Just then, her son, Avram, 5, ran up and declared proudly, "I went up the World Trade Center when I was a baby!"

If Avram and his mother are any indication, the reverence accorded the city's skyline has only heightened with the destruction of its crown, the twin towers.

Manhattan Skylines, an exhibit featuring paintings and other images showing the borough's evolution from the 19th century until it was remade Sept. 11, opened this month at the Museum of the City of New York. The exhibit provides a historical perspective dating from the 1890s, when Manhattan's tallest buildings were church steeples, to the 1930s, when commerce spawned construction of taller buildings such as the Empire State Building.

With the passage of those decades, the skyline went from homogenous horizontal aspect to vertical presence.

"The skyline became a symbol of what it means to be a city," said museum director Robert Macdonald.

The exhibit, on display through June 2, features works ranging from the photography of Samuel Gott-scho to Benjamin Eggleston's foreboding 1920s tonalist painting of lower Manhattan as seen from the East River.

The exhibit also includes a literary element. Above the paintings are reflections about the skyline from various writers and poets, including E.B. White, Mark Twain, Henry James and John Dos Passos.

Manhattan Skylines is part of Project 9 / 11, a series of initiatives the museum is undertaking to preserve the memory of Sept. 11. The exhibit includes a gold-leafed image of the skyline painted by Jonathan Shackleton and given to the museum in remembrance of the victims.

Lola Alapo writes for Newsday, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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