The first batch of artists includes Hank Willis Thomas, Alex Katz, and Barbara Kruger.
To celebrate turning 50 this April, New York magazine will unveil covers designed by one artist for each year of its existence as a kind of public art exhibition. The first eight covers—created by Mel Bochner, John Giorno, Alex Katz, Barbara Kruger, Marilyn Minter, Yoko Ono, Rob Pruitt, and Hank Willis Thomas—went on view today in 25 locations across all five boroughs. The remainder will appear between now and October.
“We have a long history of collaborating with artists on covers—they’ve created some of our most lasting and iconic, whether it’s Barbara Kruger or Maurizio Cattelan or KAWS,” said David Haskell, editor for business and strategy for New York Media, in an email to artnet News. “When it came to thinking about our anniversary, and the theme of everyone’s own ‘My New York,’ we suddenly got very excited about what might happen if 50 artists used the confines of a New York cover to say something about what the city looks like to them right now.”
“I remember [the magazine’s] beginnings and how it seemed to instantly capture the ambitions and complexity of the city it was named after,” Kruger wrote to artnet News. “And it has continued to do so with provocative and brave journalism (needed now more than ever) and blazingly compelling visuality. The city is changing in ways both admirable and brutal: its seductive pleasures, its fickle stylings, its rich cultures, its empathy and contempt, its selfishly brittle economy but still beating activist heart. After 50 years (scary how time flies), New York magazine continues to capture its hometown with compelling rigor, sharp humor, delicious taste and unrelenting scrutiny.”
“It’s pretty cool,” said Thomas, speaking to artnet News. This marks the second time he’s done a cover for the publication, following an August 2008 design featuring then-presidential nominee Barack Obama.
The Katz cover, one of three by the artist, features a sparse line drawing of a man looking at his smartphone. It made its debut back in October. The 90-year-old artist studied art at Cooper Union in the 1940s, turning the subway car into his art studio by sketching other passengers during his commute.
“I was desperate to learn to draw more quickly,” he told the magazine. “I started drawing on the subways, at lunches, at bars, at jazz concerts, coming home late from dates.” He revisited the practice for the anniversary cover on the heels of a gallery exhibition of the original work at New York gallery Timothy Taylor.
The rest of the first batch of designs, all of which feature new work created specially for New York, include a number of text-heavy images.
Ono’s minimalist contribution is an almost entirely blank page, the logo in a faded gray with the words “Whisper to me” printed in tiny type in the center. Minter’s cover shows an African-American person behind fog-covered glass on which they’ve written “home of the resistance” with their fingertip. Bochner turned in a painting of the word “obliterate” stamped over and over in white in rows on a rich blue background.
Thomas, Kruger, and Giorno all chose to work with large, sans serif type in capital letters, with Thomas and Kruger choosing politically charged messages—Kruger: “Prump Tutin,” Thomas: “All Li es Matter.” Giorno’s reads “You’re Walking Down 2nd Avenue Coming to St. Mark’s Place.”
“I was thinking about New York, especially Eric Garner and the political landscape in which he was killed, and wanted to commemorate that in a certain way,” said Thomas of his work, which references the Black Lives Matter movement and the All Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter responses to it. As for any potential reference to the president’s noted propensity for propagating falsehoods, the artist demurred: “I like to leave it open to as many different interpretations as possible.”
Pruitt also sends a message, but with a more modern form of language: He translated Milton Glaser’s iconic “I ♥ NY” logo, used in the state’s official tourism advertising campaign, into emojis, appearing as a text message on an iPhone screen.
“In the office, we’re typically starting with editorial content and drumming up visual strategies to express that idea, and it can be exhilarating to invite into the discussion someone who comes as an artist,” Haskell explained. “[F]irst, the artist gets to flex a muscle of responding to news and ideas, and we get to stretch our imagination of what a cover can be.”
In the fall, all 50 designs will go on view at a pop-up gallery exhibition organized by the magazine.
New York is also marking its semicentennial with the publication of Highbrow, Lowbrow, Brilliant, Despicable: Fifty Years of New York Magazine, a massive new volume that tells the story of the city’s rejuvenation over the last half-century, as documented in its pages.