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White City: Manhattan in a Marble Dress

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Yutaka Sone’s Little Manhattan is a three-foot-tall, nine-foot-long, two-and-a-half-ton relief map of the built city, on view at David Zwirner gallery as part of his show “Island.” Sone, an L.A. artist, started planning the project in 1999 as a follow-up to his Hong Kong Island—crafted from Chinese marble right around the time of the British colony’s reintegration with the mainland. But he put Manhattan on hold after 9/11. “I didn’t want to represent the tragedy, so I stopped,” he says. “And I waited for Manhattan to kind of get better.” In 2006, he returned to it, spending more than two years making a wood-and-foam model based on Google Earth and his own photos taken during a helicopter ride. Then he walked the city to get a feeling for the topography before he and his assistants started hand carving the stone. The skyline is circa 2007, and mostly to scale, though some structures (like the Empire State Building) were slightly enlarged to show their iconic details. The pure white marble “looks like an industrial material,” he says, “but it is still nature.” The sculpture falls to a smooth, skirted base. “The bottom is the most important part to me,” he says. “I cannot change the shape of Manhattan—or I shouldn’t—but only the top two centimeters are Manhattan. The top was make, make, make, but I wanted the bottom to be more poetic and elegant, like a white feminine dress.”


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