Nuke York, New York
Special exhibition show in the Macaulay building
Arts & Entertainment Editor
Promoted as a special exhibition in the Commons room of the Macaulay building on the west side of Central Park, “Nuke York, New York” carries a disappointing shortsightedness in scope and historical perspective. The exhibit was curated by Mick Broderick, an associate professor at Australia’s Murdoch University, and Robert Jacobs, an associate professor at the Hiroshima City University. It is difficult to understand who the exhibition was made to appeal to, as it aims to be more informative than artistic but fails to examine the history that caused the fixation on nuclear warfare in the first place. The exhibition focuses too much on shallow observations of what media depictions of New York were like, rather than simply showing them with a wider collection of documents and artworks.
Part of the problem is the exhibition’s overlooking of the United States’ role in the development of nuclear warfare as a threat. A large print of a 1950’s Collier’s magazine cover, with the headline “Hiroshima U.S.A.,” depicts Manhattan being swept by a black and orange mushroom explosion. At the bottom, the cover reads, “Can anything be done about it?” Hiroshima is referenced to express the fear of New York being bombed, while the devastation Japan suffered at the end of World War II is mostly ignored. The grand images of New York as an endangered metropolis, as if it were more important than any other strip of populated land, are cheapened by exhibition’s slight nod of acknowledgement of the United States’ growth in militaristic power and nuclear weaponry. In the protest section, this military growth is referenced, but only as a catalyst for several well-attended protests. There is a discomforting self-centered perspective possibly inherent in the exhibition’s aims.
“Nuke York” features several documents that effectively capture the hysteria surrounding such fatal threats. Scattered on a tall table is a 1980s prank issue of the New York Post announcing the emergence of World War III and featuring the darkly comic headline, “Michael Jackson, 80 million others dead.” On the same table is an eerie handbook about fighting through an attack in New York City, titled Live: A Handbook of Survival in Nuclear Attack. Elsewhere, there are a few sharp, pulpy film posters and hyper-detailed comic book pages displaying a shattered New York City. The iconography of the Brooklyn Bridge or the Statue of Liberty sinking in water is haunting in itself.
Unfortunately, the exhibition’s collection is too small to let the artwork speak for itself, and relies too heavily on lightweight contextualization. It’s troubling to piece out the ubiquity of New York City’s image as a target without detailing the United States’ own nuclear expansion and attempts to suppress other nation’s weaponry. Also, while acknowledged, there is a lack of post-9/11 New York representation. “Nuke York” mostly regurgitates the old 20th century images of the city, without widening its perspective to reveal why such images have taken precedence in pop culture.