by Cathy Gao
If London and New York were sisters, they would be the lovable Jane and Elizabeth Bennet from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. London’s older, elegant, and more romantic atmosphere is reminiscent of Jane’s character; while Elizabeth’s daring spirit, rebellious and whimsical nature finds its counterpart in the air of New York. Even though their personalities may seem different, the two cities are still intrinsically linked as cultural capitals of the world. And with both New York and London striving for financial dominance, the cities have, in a sense, become cultural rivals as well.
Like the term “Broadway” is used to describe the highest form of professional commercial theater in the United States, “West End theater” is its counterpart in the U,K,.. The country’s two most prestigious theater companies, the Royal National Theater and the Royal Shakespeare Company, both present highly varied programs such as Shakespeare, other classics, and new plays by leading contemporary playwrights. It should be noted that the term West End theater is used to refer specifically to commercial productions; however, it is the non-commercial theaters which enjoy greater artistic prestige. London’s Leicester Square, which holds many of London and the world’s film premiers, is also home to the city’s theater district where many non-commercial theaters such as Adelphi Theater and Coliseum Theater operate. Unlike London’s non-commercial theaters, the thirty-nine Broadway theaters are all run by producing and theater groups which generate billions of dollars in revenue every year. Collectively, they represent the largest theaters in New York City, with 500 seats or more for each. Along with the theaters in London’s West End, Broadway presents the highest level of commercial theater in the English speaking world. As commercial theaters in both cities are extremely distinguished, actor and production exchanges between London and New York have yielded a beneficial relationship and slight rivalry. Since the late 1990s, there has been an increase in the number of American actors on the London stage, and in 2005, these included Brooke Shields, Val Kilmer, Rob Lowe and Dave Schwimmer. In addition, two-time Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey has been artistic director of the Old Vic Theater since 2004; the theater is a culturally and historically significant landmark, providing the basis for the Royal National Theater company. Total attendances for West End theater productions first surpassed 12 million in 2002, a record which might be beaten in 2005; in comparison, Broadway theater attendances were slightly under 12 million in 2005.
Saskia Sassen refers to London and New York in her 1991 work, The Global City, as world cities which have a direct and tangible effect on global affairs through not only socio-economic means but with influence in terms of culture and politics as well. With London and New York being leaders in international finance, politics, communication, and entertainment, it only makes sense that two of the world’s cities are also global epicenters of visual art. New York’s notable Museum Mile, a section of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan running from 82nd to 105th streets, is the location of nine museums, several of which are world-renowned for their art collections. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is often referred to simply as The Met, is one of the world’s largest and most important art museums. It’s permanent collection contains more than two million works of art from around the world, many donated by American industrialists such as Robert Lehman, the former head of Lehman Brothers, Nelson A Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller Jr., and the railroad executive John Taylor Johnston, whose personal art collection seeded the museum. The Met’s holdings range from treasures of classical antiquity, like those represented in its Greek galleries, to paintings and sculptures from nearly all the European masters, to an extensive collection of American art. With encyclopedic collections of weapons and armories, musical instruments, and also art from Egypt, Africa, Asia, Oceania, the Middle East, Byzantium and other cultures, the Met’s permanent collection is truly international, reflecting the city of which it is culturally and historically a part. The Metropolitan is often compared with the notable British Museum and National Gallery in London as all three museums hold vast amounts of artworks from all over the world. Although the British Museum’s collection of some thirteen million items dwarfs the Met’s, its main purpose is to illustrate and document the story of human culture from its beginning to the present, to provide, through its acquisitions, a map of the evolution of human history and culture. For that reason, the British Museum has several branches, one being the British Museum of Natural History and the second being the British Library. Thus, many of its items are literary and scientific pieces, not artworks; its first bequest by Sir Hans Sloane comprised some 40,000 printed books, 7,000 manuscripts, and extensive natural history specimens: the donation of King George III’s personal library of 65,000 volumes, 19,000 pamphlets, maps, and topographical drawings to the museum in 1822: the Cottonian Library dating back to Elizabethan times: the Harleian Library which was the collection of the first and second Earls of Oxford: The Royal Library assembled by various British monarchs. Nonetheless, the British Museum hosts a prestigious collection of artwork, including the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon and the Rosetta Stone. The National Gallery, on the other hand, is much smaller, housing only 2,300 Western European paintings and specifically from the time period of 1250 to 1900. Even though it is much smaller in comparison with the Metropolitan and the British Museum, the National Gallery is significant for covering a broad art-historical scope with paintings of consistently high quality, making it possible to trace every major development in Western painting from the early Renaissance to Post-impressionism; its collection highlights include pieces by Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Rubens, Caravaggio, Botticelli, Cezanne, Monet, Renoir, Seurat, and Van Gogh. Slow on the uptake of modern and avant-garde artwork, the National Gallery cannot compare to the Museum of Modern Art, regarded by many as the leading modern art museum in the world, and Guggenheim Museum in that respect. The MoMA’s holdings include more than 150,000 individual pieces in addition to approximately 22,000 films, 4 million film, and important works such as The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Pablo Picasso, and The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali. The Guggenheim Museum, as famous for its spiriling white architectural design by Frank Lloyd Wright as it is for its artworks, is primarily made up of six private collections - Solomon R. Guggenheim's collection of non-objective painting premised on a belief in the spiritual dimensions of pure abstraction; his niece Peggy Guggenheim's collection of Surrealist and abstract painting and sculpture; Justin K. Thannhauser's array of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and early Modern masterpieces; Karl Nierendorf's holdings in German Expressionism; Katherine S. Dreier's paintings and sculptures of the historic avant-garde; and Dr. Giuseppe Panza di Biumo's vast holdings of European and American Minimalist, Post-Minimalist, Environmental, and Conceptual art.
Fashion month at the beginning of this year, when designers showed their fall and winter 2007 collections, began and ended in this order: a week in Paris, then Milan, then London, and finally, New York. So with London and New York being one right after the other (and both cities striving for financial dominance), one would think that the London fashion show would be almost or close to the glamour of the New York fashion show, but only 34 fashion designers showed their collections in London, none of them of international renown except for Marc Jacobs, compared to the 122 designers who presented in Bryant Park. Among the designers were Calvin Klein, Carolina Hererra, Diana von Furstenberg, Zac Posen, Vera Wang, Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs, Marchesa, Michael Kors, Narcisco Rodriguez, Proenza Schouler, and Oscar de la Renta. It could have been that many designers wanted to end the season with a bang and what better way to stay in the memories of fashion critiques if not at the very end, but as both cities are fashion capitals, the difference of ninety designers seems a bit great. Native London designers such as Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, and the Burberry Prorsum label were not even a part of London’s fashion week, opting to show their collections in Milan or Paris one or two weeks before; however, native New York designers Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, Zac Posen, Vera Wang, Ralph Lauren, Doo.Ri, and Donna Karan were all present for New York fashion week. While fashion designers play the major role in the fashion arena, the models who march down the catwalks also influence fashion. The first “supermodel” and woman to inspire a generation of iconic fashion divas was New Yorker Janice Dickinson. Appearing on the cover of Vogue thirty-seven times, Dickinson precedes Londoner supermodels Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss, the latter who has appeared on the covers of over 300 magazines and introduced the waif look to the fashion world. Moss’s thinness contrasted with the curvaceous figures of Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, and Claudia Schiffer who were supermodels of the 1990s.
The relationship between the two cities has never been more complex: on a cultural and financial level, London and New York trade anything from actors to Fortune 500 companies, but they are also like two sisters, competing to see who is prettier and who has the more expensive party dress. In the fields of theater, museums, and fashion, London and New York are very close rivals. New York has dominated the twentieth century, but can it hold on to the top for long? Or will London become “The Other New York” in the future? For that answer, we will have to wait a while.