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40th Anniversary

The New York Canon: 1968-2008

Rhoda was mostly shot in front of a live studio audience in Studio City, California, but Ms. Morgenstern will, of course, forever be ours, running down into the subway—in her wedding dress—after her frenemy Phyllis forgot to give her a ride. Still, as “The Culture Pages” team put together this list of the most essential New York works of art from the past 40 years—our contribution to New York’s anniversary commemoration—the show was somewhat controversial. Rhoda’s Bronx honk and mild sarcasm are all ours, but was her sitcom really quality television?

That kind of internal argument took place on nearly every choice we had to make, and led us to this decision: Our New York canon would not be a best-of, or a greatest-hits list of works made about New York, or in New York, or by New Yorkers. It would consist of some works that fit all those criteria, and some that meet none of them. The key was that the choices be unmistakably New Yorky, even if a few weren’t all that good. Many scream Manhattan. Yet one takes place in Baton Rouge. Another is set in the 49th state of the union—but by way of Queens. A Brahms requiem even made it into the mix. Our critics got to make the vexing calls, since that’s what critics do.

Which isn’t to say that there weren’t some (occasionally broken) rules. Because this is a canon, we went mostly for the tangible—novels, albums, buildings—over you-had-to-be-there moments, performances brilliant but fleeting. So, you can go read or hear or see most of this stuff yourself. One helpful tip:

A salute to the seventies, and eighties, and … but, yeah, mostly to the seventies. You got a problem with that? Me, too.
From Norman Mailer to Rem Koolhaas, 26 works of lapidary New Yorkitude.
The only place where Mel Brooks can rub elbows with Mack the Knife.
Pop & Jazz
The birth of rap, the nurturing of punk—that would be plenty. But there’s more.
The East Village’s friendly baby, the culture wars’ provocateur, and (of course) Andy’s apotheosis.
From Rhoda to Seinfeld to Samantha Jones, this is New York in a box.
Where the mightiest towers meet the most delicate details.
Classical & Dance
From Laurie Anderson’s magnum opus to the definitive Beethoven marathon.

Q&As with iconic New York artists about creating their masterworks.
Cindy Sherman on "Untitled Film Stills"
E.L. Doctorow on Ragtime
Spike Lee on Do the Right Thing
Tony Kushner on Angels in America