Masterpieces of Everyday New York – Parsons – Summer 2013


Masterpieces of Everyday New York – Parsons – Summer 2013


Sheila C. Johnson Design Center
Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Gallery

June 27-September 4, 2013

There are more than 8 million ordinary objects in this city that carry within them a sense of its inimitable expression. They express its thundering diversity or a thorough particularity; they connect us to other places, past and present, or moor us to the here and now; they enliven or aggravate daily life; they epitomize the city at large or hold true to one of its neighborhoods. They may be small, held, and mobile or large, unwieldy, and stationary. Well-designed or just well-used, they live and survive, carried by the city’s inhabitants from place to place, from generation to generation, creating a ripple of small meanings.

This exhibition features 62 objects selected by designers, artists, anthropologists, sociologists, historians, writers, musicians and others — all faculty at The New School and inhabitants of New York — that each narrate a biography of this place. They are variously historical, cultural, technological, organic, novel, typical, skilled, shoddy, mundane, luxurious, exclusive, popular or sensual.

In assembling these objects, the exhibition instantiates Parsons’ new undergraduate curriculum; specifically one of its core courses, Objects as History: From Prehistory to Industrialization, which uses objects found in New York City collections to introduce students to world history as expressions and embodiments of particular places and times. Acknowledging the justifiably famous British Museum exhibition and radio program, A History of the World in 100 Objects, this exhibition situates objects as narratives of the present.

Curated by Radhika Subramaniam and Margot Bouman


The Wall Street Bull

The Visualizing Finance Lab at Parsons asserts that metaphor is the principal cognitive driver of financial understanding for a general public. Exemplified by financial illustration and terminology, metaphors such as the octopus, the squid, or the bull and the bear are touch points of understanding for the public in an otherwise confusing and opaque landscape of transactions, practices and policies.

The 7,100 lb bull sculpture that charges toward Broadway in the plaza at Bowling Green near the New York Stock Exchange metaphorically represents the upward-thinking “bulls” among stock traders, those who expect the market to rise. The bull is alone—without its pessimistic counterpart the “bear”—symbolizing the optimism, irrational exuberance, speculation and the expectation of ever-increasing returns that dominated market activity between the stock market crash of 1987 and the Great Recession of 2008. The bull’s virility also reflects testosterone’s correlation with risk-taking. Testosterone is likely to rise during a bubble and, by increasing risk-taking, to exaggerate the market’s upward movement. These steroid feedback loops may help to explain why people caught up in bubbles and crashes often find it difficult to make rational choices. Without restraint from the “bears,” the runaway “bulls” can lead to market volatility and financial bubbles.

This potent symbol of irrational exuberance attracts tourists as well as counter-statements. Prior to its corralling, its testicles had been rubbed to a shiny patina by visitors, and, in the summer of 2011, anarchist symbols were painted on its side and it’s testicles. As site of the production of its testosterone, are the testicles the most bullish part of the bull? Is this why they were singled out for such attention? Whatever the case, in the wake of the Occupy Wall Street protests, the exuberance of the bull has been tamed; access to the bull is now regulated by a constant police presence. Today, under the supervisory eye of a policeman, tourists pose in more predictable fashion for their “portraits with bull.” Enframed by the fences that police use to control large crowds, the bull is now both framed and subjected to additional surveillance by everyone with a computer on the “Charging Bull Cam,” deemed a “location of importance” by Earthcam. Although the camera has been damaged by the flooding wrought by Hurricane Sandy in lower Manhattan, the bull can be seen remotely at:

While the speculative financial frenzy it personifies appears to be in temporary abeyance, the bull remains under the protective gaze of a distributed police: Earthcam’s viewers.

In the summer of 2011, Adbusters created this poster which was widely embraced as inspiration by influential groups within the Occupy Wall Street movement. We chose this image of the charging bull surmounted by a graceful dancer because it uses conceptual metaphor to suggest the power of people over profits, representing the tenderness of humanity, and asking “What is our one demand?”