Thursday, January 13, 2011

Wortman's NY

If you haven't come across it yet, check out the book Denys Wortman's New York, and then get up to the Museum of the City of New York to see the work of this incredible artist and chronicler of the New York scene of the 1930s and 40s. The show runs until March.

Denys Wortman sketched the city for The New York World-Telegram and Sun from the 1920s until the 1950s. His images, long forgotten, were rediscovered by cartoonist James Sturm who got in touch with Wortman's son and found his way to a 5,000-piece collection of incredible ephemera. The book and museum show followed.

As the Times recently wrote, Wortman's drawings are "beautifully composed and finely worked, a legacy of his art school years, when he studied alongside future Ashcan school painters like Edward Hopper and George Bellows, and with their guru Robert Henri." The Ashcan style is alive in these pieces, but on a more intimate scale.

Wortman, detail

The drawings are richly detailed scenes, slices of life featuring the poor and working class citizens of the city in mid-century. The Lower East Side is a tangle of signage and laundry lines, its stoops and fire escapes crowded with people who call out to each other, telling the stories of their days.

On the factory floors and in the offices of the Garment District, seamstresses and bosses talk of vacations and business dealings. In Times Square and Coney Island, sailors strut and girls flirt. Burlesque dancers and chorines stretch their gams backstage.

Wortman, detail

In bread lines, unemployment offices, and luncheonettes, men in fedoras count their pennies and kill time. Women sunbathe on Tar Beach rooftops. Bums stroll like royalty on the Bowery. Aspiring actresses and authors find rejection in the offices of talent agents and pulp publishers.

Wortman, detail

Also featured in the show are the street photographs of Wortman's wife, Hilda--priceless images largely of a lost Lower East Side. Many of Wortman's scenes were taken from her photos and from the lines she overheard on the streets and in the shops. The whole thing is a kind of early "Overheard New York," filled with the dialect of lost accents and expressions. Don't miss it.


Shawn said...

I'm stunned. Wow, this is fantastic!

Melanie said...

This exhibit looks great!!I will try to get there--it is a cool place too.

BrooksNYC said...

That looks fantastic, thanks! Just what the doctor ordered.

Marty Wombacher said...

Thanks for the heads-up on this exhibit, I will definitely check it out.

City Of Strangers said...


Looks like a great show, thanks for the tip. The visual equivalent of Joseph Mitchell. . . .