- Title: USA: The New York City Museum of Complaint
- Date: 21st July 2006
- Summary: (L!3) NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK UNITED STATES (JULY 14, 2006) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF ARTIST MATTHEW BAKKOM HANDING OUT COPIES OF "THE NEW YORK CITY MUSEUM OF COMPLAINT" TO PASSERS BY "THE NEW YORK CITY MUSEUM OF COMPLAINT" WOMAN PICKING UP "THE NEW YORK CITY MUSEUM OF COMPLAINT" VARIOUS OF COMPLAINT LETTERS
- Embargoed: 5th August 2006 13:00
- Location: Usa
- Country: USA
- Topics: Arts / Culture / Entertainment / Showbiz,Lifestyle
- Reuters ID: LVA4FXPXAGZN879IRNIX7QJ9UGUH
- Story Text: What are you complaining about? If you're a New Yorker, it's often about noise and trash and occasionally about politics or morals.
Those are some of the concerns expressed over the past 300 years by citizens writing to their mayor, as unearthed by an artist who mined the city's archives to create The New York City Museum of Complaint.
The museum is actually a tabloid newspaper reproducing 31 letters from 1751 to the late 1900s, currently on display at the Miguel Abreu gallery in New York's Lower East side.
Matthew Bakkom, the artist who created the project, is also distributing the paper in city parks. Some letters are elegantly handwritten, others typed, and all of them complain about something.
Bakkom discovered the archive while doing historical research and decided these disaffected voices from the past needed to be heard.
"It just seemed to me something very vital and very original and very striking in the way the voice operates, when it's moment of complaint or a moment of negotiation. And I thought it was something really useful, not necessarily optimistic, but really useful for us to reflect on. The way the city has changed and also the way people express themselves and how we might be able to better complain and offer solution for them," he said.
The city has preserved complaints as far back as 1700, when the American colonies were under British rule.
"Some of them are on the verge of paranoia, others are on the verge of genius," said Bakkom.
The first in the collection, from 1751, seeks compensation for a series of ills. "The report of the small pox being in this city hinders the country people from coming to market," Andrew Ramsey wrote, noting that he "lost two Negroes last winter."
A 1900 letter on corruption from the president of the Citizens' Progressive League decries avarice: "The only thing purely 'American' that I can find in New York City, after many years' search, is the abnormally developed spirit of money getting."
The 1930s are represented by five letters, including one from 1935 that seeks a change in the law so "that girls in the burlesque shows in New York would be allowed to display their charms without more interference of the police."
"You can open the paper on any given day and probably read about the same things that New Yorkers have been writing about for the entirety of history. The situation have changed, some of the details are different. But, you know, in a metropolis like this, these are enduring issues. I don't think there's ever going to be a solution for any of them, but there's a constant struggle in just keeping your head above water in dealing with them," said Bakkom.
Bakkom adds that he has a few favourites, such as one from the London woman Mary Elizabeth.
It was leaked to the press and produced a spate of letters from lonely people looking for mates, Bakkom said. Cook, calling herself an attractive brunette of 29, wrote in 1949: "Could you possibly help me find an American husband."
"I can send photographs," she added
What do New Yorkers think about their reputation as complainers?
According to New York resident Rashgene White, "New York was born on complaints". "Because we want what we want and we get it. Whether it's the food or equal rights or gay marriage or anything."
Taxi driver Al Acevedo says his biggest complaint is that "there's too much traffic. Trucks, too many cars and there's nothing you can do about it."
New Yorker Rebecca Carey says "men are completely inconsiderate in this city. You know what, your mamas would be upset with you if they knew the way men treated women with babies."
But none of these Manhattanites plan on writing letters to Mayor Bloomberg any time soon. Instead, they'll leave it to the bigger complainers, who will surely make their complaints known.
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