My favorite magazine? For those of you picturing me lovingly thumbing through Vogue Knitting or American Craft...sorry. Far and away, I spend more time with the New York Times Magazine. It's the perfect magazine to occupy me on my rides on the bus and subway. The articles are deep, diverse, and thought-provoking, but I've become addicted to the trimmings...Randy Cohen's Ethicist, the Freakonomics column, but mainly Consumed by Rob Walker. Nearly every week, Walker takes an in-depth look at a consumer phenomenon, and manages to critically analyze it without fawning or chiding.
This week's column examines Boym Partners "Buildings of Disaster" commemoratives. The series, which began in 1998 as an "alternative history of architecture", consists of tiny, lovingly rendered miniature buildings, made of bonded nickel in editions of 500. Subjects so far have included The New Orleans Superdome, the Unabomber's Cabin, Chernobyl, and oddly enough, OJ Simpson's Car Chase (pictured above). Crass exploitation, you cry? Maybe...but think about commemorative objects in general. Commemorative objects, be they plates, thimbles, or lenticular World-Trade Center portraits, fill a psychological human need to make memories tangible. Such high-minded objects as the Buildings of Disaster series aren't meant to be artworks (like Charles Krafft's "Disasterware" series) but as design objects.
The design object occupies a peculiar place in our cultural landscape. I would argue that the glut of miniature chairs and functional Alessi objects are analogous to the plates or thimbles that your Grandmother has hanging in her trailer. People derive pleasure from the objects that they surround themselves with, and "Buildings of Disaster" manage to commemorate something as ephemeral as the participatory role that buildings play in tragic events, while being "monuments" to the humor and taste of their owners. The New York Times article points out that there is an entire class of miniature building collectors, who provide one of the constituencies of "Buildings of Disaster", but they are certainly not alone. Like all good commemorators, Boym know where there bread is buttered, and have also created a series of "missing monuments" (which actually predate the Buildings of Disaster" and "fathers of modern art". Plunk down your $90, and a little piece of limited edition tragedy can be yours.