We occasionally split the run of an issue of ANTIQUES with one cover for subscribers—an interior from Abbeville, Louisiana, in this case—and another for distribution at shows—Louis Lozowick’s 1930 lithograph of the Brooklyn Bridge. If this sounds like a North/South thing it isn’t exactly, but I’ll explain that in a moment.
The New York art and antiques season seems a good time to consider the Brooklyn Bridge, a potent symbol linking past and future, our perennial theme here. Its soaring Gothic arches held in the disciplined embrace of an engineering marvel have always beckoned artists, poets, filmmakers, and musicians, and I can’t be the only Midwestern adolescent who read Hart Crane’s The Bridge and fell in love with those cables and arches before ever visiting this city. Did I imagine a monument so powerful that, in Crane’s overwrought words, it could “lend a myth to God”? I did. I still see it as a work of art, capable, on any given day, of transfiguring the landscape and speaking to the best in us.
I walk to work from Brooklyn as many mornings as weather permits, and as I do I marvel at how the bridge improves the Manhattan skyline, framing it so handsomely that even the monstrous Verizon building at its foot seems an almost forgivable human error. In a city where all that is solid melts into air, the Brooklyn Bridge exudes permanence; as in Paris, lovers put their initials on padlocks that they fasten to its railings, throwing the keys into the river in the touching expectation that they, like the bridge, will be immutable. The police, knowing more about terrorism than mutability, patrol the bridge these days, and as I cross I try not to think about recent photographs of Palmyra’s Temple of Bel, its one remaining arch leaning over the ruins of that city.
For the moment the bridge continues to console as it endures, most memorably in photographs from September 11, 2001, where it stood out as the boiling cloud of death rolled over the East River to Brooklyn. Soon it will be dwarfed by the luxury high rise towers that are marching down the city’s waterfront but even then it will shine.
In 1883, when the bridge opened it did something besides linking Brooklyn to Manhattan; in the aftermath of the Civil War the bridge was for many a symbol, if not of union, at least of that remote possibility. I have spent a lot of time in the South these past six months and the two handsome collections shown in this issue, one in Louisiana and one in Georgia, are the outcome of those visits. They remind me that North and South are too intertwined to be truly separate, but too wonderfully distinctive to be united by anything more coercive than a bridge that preserves them both.
We like to think of this magazine as that kind of bridge.