Painting the Town, One Landmark At A Time

| 17 Feb 2015 | 05:09

The Society of Illustrators celebrates the 50th anniversary of NYC's Landmarks Law with a summer show

Tucked away on an exclusive block in the East 60s, off Lexington Avenue and across the street from J. Pocker, a bespoke frame shop and neighborhood institution, is the Society of Illustrators, founded more than 100 years ago and situated in a former carriage house.

Devoted to the appreciation and promotion of illustration, the society hosts exhibits throughout the year, all open to the public. To commemorate the upcoming 50th anniversary of the New York City Landmarks Law in 2015, the society, as a member of the NYC Landmarks50 Advisory Alliance, is presenting Illustrating Our Landmarks, a show now on view through August 16, 2014.

Walk up two narrow staircases in this elegant, five-story townhouse, with walls lined with works from the Permanent Collection, and you will arrive at the Hall of Fame Gallery and Dining Room, the setting for this gem of an exhibit. The space is long and wide, peppered with tables and chairs that lead out to a small terrace, where diners can also enjoy the lunchtime buffet Tuesday-Friday. (The Hall of Fame Dining Room is open for lunch to non-members who purchase the "Museum Experience Package.")

But the main attraction here is the art, which crowds both sides of the main dining area and the bar and can be viewed to the sound of smooth jazz or Jersey Boys, depending on when you arrive. Society members were asked to illustrate their favorite New York City landmark. The result is a wild and eclectic mix of some 65 buildings, neighborhoods, interiors and iconic structures-from the obvious, like the Empire State and Flatiron buildings, to the less obvious, like the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona ("Satchmo's") and the Coney Island Cyclone.

Stephen Gardner loves New York City bars. It was the subject of his sketchbook when he was a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology. He contributes colorful, realistic scenes of P.J. Clarke's and the White Horse Tavern, all in gouache. His interior view of P.J. Clarke's ("P.J. Clarke's Bar Scene") faces off with the real-life bar, aptly enough.

Joan Pels Chiverton pays homage to the Ansonia ("I Grew Up in the Ansonia"), a former residential hotel on Upper Broadway, with text that runs alongside delicate images in pen-and-ink and watercolor. Fabled residence of Babe Ruth, Enrico Caruso and Theodore Dreiser, the building once housed her family's art school, Pels School of Art, on the second floor (the space, she relates, is now occupied by North Face; the building is a condo). Chiverton lived on the 11th floor and fondly recalls the wide hallways of her two-bedroom apartment-and less fondly recalls the subdivision of large apartments into smaller ones.

The land-marked cityscape is depicted here in a variety of ways and in a variety of mediums, from oil, watercolor, gouache, pen-and-ink, pastel, charcoal, and collage, to digital images and a single sculpture. In two separate works, Grand Central Terminal is encapsulated by human foot traffic, not architecture. "Grand Central" by Stephen Kroninger is a dense and diverse collage of cut-and-paste paper figures-people of all shapes, sizes, races and religions, cellphones, cameras and newspapers in hand-traversing the Main Concourse. Kroninger's piece was awarded the society's 2014 Stevan Dohanos Award for best illustration in a members exhibit. The second work, "Grand Central Terminal" by Steven Stroud, is a more somber oil portrait of solitary men and women purposefully traversing the station, armed with pocketbooks, backpacks and briefcases.

Some of the images are instantly recognizable, while others are less so. The Guggenheim Museum's distinctive form is memorialized atop a woman's head, as a hat, by Stefano Imbert, while Central Park's Conservatory Garden is represented as a vivid blue-and-green close-up of a pool of water lilies by John Thompson.

The works are a tribute to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, which has designated some 1,400 individual landmarks, 115 interior landmarks, 10 scenic landmarks, and 109 historic districts (plus 10 historic district extensions) since Mayor Robert F. Wagner signed the Landmarks Law in 1965. As it celebrates the law's half-century, the Society of Illustrators, one of 80 members of the NYC Landmarks50 Advisory Alliance, seeks to cultivate an appreciation for the city's architecture-and an awareness of historic preservation-in a new, younger audience.

Says exhibit curator Leslie Cober-Gentry, daughter of the late Hall of Fame illustrator Alan E. Cober: "Viewers can observe the many captivating landmarks through the eyes of some of the most important illustrators of today. They will leave with an understanding of the importance of the preservation of the wonderful history and design of the New York City skyline."

Illustrating Our Landmarks at the Society of Illustrators, 128 East 63rd Street (between Lexington and Park), now through August 16, 2014.