Fall back in love with NYC through this new book of ‘hidden’ art treasures

September 18, 2020

Images courtesy of Running Press

While New York City is home to some of the best and biggest cultural institutions in the world, it’s the more obscure masterpieces found on streets, subway stations, and tucked away in bars and buildings that inspired author Lori Zimmer’s latest book. In Art Hiding in New York: An Illustrated Guide to the City’s Secret MasterpiecesZimmer highlights 100 hidden-in-plain-sight and surprising spots across the city and explores the unique history of the art and the artists behind them. From a massive Roy Lichtenstein mural in the Times Square subway station to fragments of the Berlin Wall painted by artist Thierry Noir, incredible pieces of art can be found everywhere in New York, even beyond galleries and museums. Ahead, we chat with Zimmer about her guide to New York City’s underground art world, the beautiful illustrations paired with each work, and the city’s perpetual reinvention.

Where did the idea for this book come from?
I’d been collecting art history data in New York and around the world for years. I’m a dork, I love this stuff- learning about the stories of great artists, where they lived, where they drank themselves into stupors, or got their inspiration. Pre-internet, I also pored over guidebooks, even in places I’ve lived, just because I wanted to know all the secrets. Thing is, guide books don’t age well, things close, restaurants shutter.

So, I decided to write a book that focused on something that doesn’t change- stories. Sure, there are some sculptures that may eventually get moved and some institutions that could change hands, but I wanted to make a book about the rich history of New York art and culture. It was tough limiting the book to just 100 spots, but hopefully that means there will be a part two!

Why did you decide to go with illustrations instead of photos?
I’ve always enjoyed the narrative over the factual, I thought photos would be too “real,” and leave nothing to the imagination. These places have incredible backstories and I think illustrations give the reader the space to daydream about them. Maria Krasinski (the illustrator) and I have been friends since we were nine, her illustrations actually inspired me to get my research together into a book.

I’m sure you didn’t anticipate your book being released in the middle of a global pandemic. Has that been challenging at all? Or has it brought some new opportunities?
Aside from having to cancel all of our launch events, I think it is actually a really fortuitous time for Art Hiding in New York to be published. I’m usually traveling for a great part of the year, but thanks to the pandemic, I’m stuck in the city, as are many other people. I wrote this book for not just visitors, but for New Yorkers, who are too busy New Yorking to take notice of the really cool things around them. (I mean, we were ALL that busy, that’s why we live here!), and now they have a unique opportunity to fall back in love with their city.

It’s funny, I’ve written and researched this book backwards and forwards, and during these odd COVID-times, I’ve found myself being awed by art and architecture I’ve written about dozens of times already. It has been a really unique opportunity to observe without distraction. I hope it brings a smile on some faces during this dark time.

Do you have a personal favorite piece of public art in NYC?
It changes for me daily, I actually really love the art at Rockefeller Center and it has been fantastic to really take a closer look during the pandemic with no one around. I never thought that would happen! There is a beautiful mural by Dean Cornwell called The History of Transportation inside the lobby of 10 Rockefeller Center which is open to the public, but most people don’t realize it is even there. It is absolutely gorgeous, and–fun fact!–he painted a double-decker commercial airplane in the mural before one existed!

What do you say to all these people who are proclaiming “NYC is dead?”
I think it is totally okay for those people to move on to another place. If the New York they want is all pastel matcha cafes, Instagram “experiences” calling themselves “museums” and bottle service, then they can go find that elsewhere. It really doesn’t matter where they live.

New York is not supposed to be easy, and it never was. It is a wildly complicated, unruly, unforgiving, unfair, exciting, intoxicating, inspiring architectural haven full of creativity and people from all over the world who will do anything to be here, and always have. It is its own creature, and it is just reinventing itself. I’m so excited for what it becomes next.

Art Hiding in New York will publish with Running Press on September 22nd.

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