Last October The Magazine ANTIQUES and our sister publications MODERN and Art in America joined forces with the venerable ARTnews. In November we moved from SoHo, our longtime home, to new offices just down from Madison Square Park and within sight of the Flatiron Building, built in 1902, the year ARTnews began publication.
By Eleanor H. Gustafson
The Flatiron Building, designed by Daniel Burnham (1846–1912), completed 1902, in a photograph of c. 1905 by the Detroit Publishing Company. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., Prints and Photographs Division.
It’s a neighborhood that is currently food central for New York gastronomes and casual grazers. Bookended by the high end Eleven Madison Park on one side of the park and the mecca of Eataly on the other, there is the humble Shake Shack at the park’s core, where you can eat al fresco and look at some fine sculpture and architecture. For us this neighborhood constitutes the ideal conjunction of food and art. We especially like its firm grounding in the city’s history.
Named for James Madison, the park opened in 1847. The first and second Madison Square Gardens originally stood at the north end, before the Garden moved uptown in 1925. Augustus Saint-Gaudens’s bronze statue of Admiral David Farragut stands firm against the elements atop a base designed by Stanford White, and there are monuments by two other renowned nineteenth-century sculptors as well: Randolph Rogers’s to William H. Seward, Lincoln’s secretary of state; and John Quincy Adams Ward’s to Roscoe Conkling, the leader of the New York State Republican Party in the 1870s. But not all the art in the park is historical; since 2004 Mad. Sq. Art has commissioned and presented thirty installations by contemporary artists in a range of mediums, including Sol Lewitt, Mark di Suvero, Orly Genger, and most recently, Teresita Fernández.
Admiral David Farragut by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848–1907), 1881. Bronze; height 9 feet.
The Flatiron Building punctuates the southern end of the park, but Madison Avenue, along the east side, makes its own distinguished architectural statements: the Appellate Division Courthouse (1901) designed by James Brown Lord, its exterior sculptural detail and the allegorical murals within executed by numerous notable artists; the Metropolitan Life Insurance building, with its 560-foot tower modeled on the Campanile in Venice, completed in 1909, and the tallest building in the world at the time; and the New York Life Building (1928) by architect Cass Gilbert, renowned for the Woolworth Building and the U. S. Custom House.
This had to be the neighborhood at the turn of the last century because Edith Wharton grew up nearby. We know from her memoir A Backward Glance that her family ate remarkably well (“terrapin and canvas-back ducks…soft shelled crabs with a mayonnaise of celery, and peach-fed Virginia hams cooked in champagne… corn souffles and salads of oyster crabs”), so in that sense, as in so many others, the neighborhood has come back to what it was. We love it here.