What do Andy Warhol, The Band and Times Square have in common?

Not much.

But I was listening to the Band today as I wrote this story about Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick:

Andy Warhol moved the Factory to the sixth floor of 33 Union Square West in 1965, the same year he met Edie. An unusual building for it’s era, it still stands out on the block because of the intricate terra cotta details on the facade and a large minaret on the roof. Max’s Kansas City was around the corner on Park Avenue South. Andy’s friend Lou Reed played there regularly with the Velvet Underground, and Andy’s crowd of artists, scenesters and followers became a fixture in the back room of the club.
Edie Sedgwick’s entry into the New York scene was explosive. When she entered the room, people revolved around her like planets orbiting the sun. Andy claimed her as his muse and christened her his “Superstar”. She wanted the Hollywood dream Andy promised and he cast her in many of his films. After returning from a Paris gallery opening in May 1965, Warhol asked his scriptwriter to write a script for Sedgwick, “something in a kitchen – something white, and clean, and plastic.” The resulting film was “Kitchen”, one of the many in which Edie would wander about the set with some fuzzy purpose having unintelligible conversations with other actors. Although Edie’s magnetism made the films an underground success, most of them were never screened outside of the Factory.
Whirling onto the Factory scene was Edie’s escape from her troubled childhood, and drugs pushed her further away from her problems. Many people, including Bob Dylan, were at odds with Andy about the way he objectively watched – and filmed – her demise. Edie tried to get closer to Andy emotionally but he remained cold and detached. Their relationship deteriorated by the end of 1965, when she was already heavily dependent on drugs. She died of a massive overdose at the age of twenty-eight. In a short time she became a vital component of the Factory and a cultural icon, but her star burned too bright as it seared the night sky.
Then I realized that the Band toured with Bob Dylan most of the time, so there is a connection with Andy. Roni Horn did this type portrait of Andy Warhol:


Somehow this artwork by Roni Horn inspired me for my type experiments. 

Yesterday I created “Times Square in White” and I’m thinking about doing an entirely white composition with type.

James Dean in Times Square 1955

This is a gathering in Times Square awaiting the results of a boxing match on the ticker.

My beef with the current state of Times Square is that when there is such a saturation of billboards, communication ceases to exist. When every advertisement screams at you, they cancel each other out and nothing remains memorable. over-stimulation = NO communication

I started reading “Learning from Las Vegas”, Robert Venturi’s analysis of the signage on the Las Vegas strip. He’s talking about how on the strip “communication dominates space as an element in the architecture and in the landscape.” The same dominance of signs occurs in Times Square at a pedestrian scale.

Random facts about Times Square:

Times Square used to be called Longacre square and was renamed in 1904 when The New York Times set up their headquarters in the building at One Times Square (where the ball drops).

The original news ticker at One Times Square was installed in 1928 and first used to announce the results of the Presidential election of 1928. (Times Square was the place that New Yorkers gathered to get news and celebrate big events like the World Series or presidential elections.)

Starting after the Depression and through the 80’s, Times Square became known for it’s seediness. It was a den for pornography, prostitution, drugs and criminal behavior. New development in the 80’s started to clean up the area. That was when zoning regulations were made which require buildings to be covered in billboards to maintain the “authenticity” of the area.

Disney bought a space in Times Square in the 90’s and changed the profile of the area to be more of a family-friendly destination. Times Square was “Disneyfied”. Jane Jacobs would be horrified.

My first memory of Times Square was going to get fake ID’s with a couple friends in high school! Unfortunately I can’t find that photo, but need to see if someone has it.

The old billboards were spectacular – the Camel guy blowing the smoke ring, the Pepsi waterfall (both designed by Douglas Leigh) and the more recent Coke bottle with retractable straw and the steaming Cup of Noodles. Now all of the still and moving images blend together to create a monotonous scream of color and activity.

Times Square isn’t actually a square – it’s the crossing of two large avenues. The northern point is called Duffy Square, named after Father Duffy – LaGuardia dedicated it when he was mayor.

In the last few years Bloomberg started a program to make New York’s streets more pedestrian friendly and it’s really visible in Times Square. Huge areas are blocked off for pedestrians, which give people more space (and seemingly time) to stop and look around. Also, it makes travel times faster for cars because Broadway no longer chokes off the traffic coming down 7th avenue. Huh, I never would have guessed that closing roads would actually make traffic move faster, but it worked.

The Times Square alliance is also doing great work to get cutting edge artists to do installations and performances here. This is the beginning of getting real New Yorkers to visit this neighborhood but we still need good food, reasonable prices and possibly fewer flashing lights.

This neighborhood is also known as the theater district, and the theater is another place where you will rarely find New Yorkers. How to get more New Yorkers to see theater? Cheaper tickets? Waiting in line for three hours to get half-price tickets for the current shows is not fun.

In “The Experience of Place”, Tony Hiss talks at length about the unique atmosphere of Times Square, different from any other place in New York. The Reuters building and Ernst and Young building, high-rises built in the 80’s on 42nd street succeed in blocking out most of the afternoon sunlight in the Square. The northern part (Duffy square) is the only place that gets significant sunlight.

At night, architecture disappears and only signage is visible. So it removes the disjointedness between sign and building. Times Square actually works really well at night.

As I contemplate this project in Times Square I’m asking myself a few questions:
What if there was massive coordination of signage in Times Square? Or integration of signage with architecture? What if the advertisements in Times Square were entirely typographic and consisted only of beautiful letterforms? Maybe there needs to be a new height/size for billboards. We need to bring in white space – it’s a shame that so much money and energy is wasted on signs that can’t even be read.

In our lives over-stimulation results in a lack of communication. When everything is screaming at you, it’s difficult to bring meaningful personal content into the experience. If we simplify our surroundings do we actually get more out of it? Can we bring more of our own meaning when the visual noise is reduced? Beyond looking, what can people do with this visual stimuli? I could give people a blank slate and they can draw in their own images. If Times Square were more interactive it could add another layer of meaning. I could ask “What is your Times Square?”

From Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”, Sal finds himself back where his journey began.
Suddenly I found myself on Times Square. I had traveled eight thousand miles around the American continent and I was back on Times Square; and right in the middle of a rush hour, too, seeing with my innocent road-eyes the absolute madness and fantastic hoorair of New York with its millions and millions hustling forever for a buck among themselves, the mad dream—grabbing, taking, giving, sighing, dying, just so they could be buried in those awful cemetery cities beyond Long Island City. The high towers of the land–the other end of the land, the place where Paper America is born.

Published by Elizabeth Pizzuti

Design, art, and cats mostly

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