New York, New York

New York City is not just the center of the art world; it's the center of American culture. That was proven beyond a shadow of a doubt almost a year and a half ago by the tragic events that occurred on 9/11. With that event, the city's place in the popular imagination of people around the world was amply demonstrated, both by the terrorists' decision to hit New York in the first place and the national and international response to the disaster.

In the days and weeks after the famous, iconic Twin Towers by Minoru Yamasaki came down, it became obvious that the enormous and valuable site would be rebuilt and that it must include a memorial to the thousands of innocent victims who were lost.

The site has now been cleared, and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, charged with the rebuilding, has winnowed down the list of nine designs for a new World Trade Center complex (which will be renamed) and announced last week that Daniel Libeskind is one of the two finalists.

The hotter-than-hot architect is a familiar face in Denver, owing to frequent visits related to his soon-to-be-built freestanding wing of the Denver Art Museum. The three-building complex will include, in addition to the museum wing, a parking garage and a residential high-rise. Interestingly, Libeskind's proposal for the New York site is clearly a conceptual and stylistic extension of the much more modest Denver project: Both feature Libeskind's signature cubistic and expressionist handling of the volumes, in which his buildings are conceived as a series of overlapping diagonal planes.

Libeskind's DAM has already garnered a lot of press in art and architecture magazines here and in Europe. But if Libeskind is selected to design the WTC, the profile of his Denver complex will rise dramatically, because it will be finished while the New York buildings are just getting under way. The new DAM wing will thus serve as the proof in the pudding regarding Libeskind as a designer.

I have no crystal ball, nor am I privy to the internal workings of the selection committee, but I think Libeskind's WTC design has a better-than-even chance of making the final cut. His only rival, THINK Design, a consortium of architects headed by Raphael Viñoly and Frederic Schwartz, put forward the idea of a pair of 1,600-foot cylindrical towers with outdoor staircases spiraling to the top. True, Libeskind's design has some outrageous features, too, none more so than the almost 180-story greenhouse spire -- "a green boulevard set on its end," as Libeskind has described it -- but even that's not as absurd as those evocative but creepy THINK staircases. The project's on a fast track, so we'll know the winner in just two short weeks.

The city of New York, including the destruction of the WTC, is the subject of a compelling exhibit, Street Level: A Century of New York Street Photography, currently at the Singer Gallery of the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture. The show, which fills both the main space and the annex in the nearby atrium, is so impressive that it seems like something that could only have been put together by the likes of the International Center for Photography or Eastman House. Well, okay, maybe the New York Historical Society -- but surely not the Singer?

The volume of the material alone makes Street Level appear to be a traveling blockbuster. The exhibit includes more than 120 photographs by so many big names it'll make your head spin. But appearances are deceiving, because it was put together, as preposterous as it seems, at the Singer. And it only stops here in Denver.

The show was organized by the gallery's director, the multi-talented Simon Zalkind, who has been told by many people that they assumed the show was from out of town. "There's the assumption that it's too ambitious. Certainly we didn't do it; we just paid for it. And it is, I guess, in a way, a compliment," Zalkind says with a laugh. But it's hardly the compliment Zalkind deserves for putting together this riveting show.

The secret to Zalkind's success is his network of loan sources, for the most part galleries and collectors, which are easier to deal with than museums when it comes to loans. Many of the photos in the show are from commercial venues right here in Denver, including the Camera Obscura Gallery and Gallery Sink, while others come from New York operations, such as the Howard Greenberg Gallery and the Robert Miller Gallery.

The exhibition's design, also the brainchild of Zalkind, is something worth mentioning. Strikingly, Zalkind had the walls painted a strong yellow: "It's the color of the mustard at Nathan's in Coney Island," he says. Against this mustard background, the photos stand out like jewels. Zalkind went classic with the framing, putting just about everything in cream-colored mattes and painted-black wood moldings, long the standard of elegance for photography presentation. But it was more than just a chic choice: The framing unifies the disparate photos, simplifying the overall look of the densely installed exhibit -- a necessity, because Zalkind crammed in so many photos that he didn't have room for even one more.

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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia