The New Classics
The most enduring books, shows, movies, and ideas since 2000.
I am betting on the Ugg. (Yes, I know, it wasn't invented this millennium—but we fashion folk have always been sketchy on details.) The Ugg is the place where comfort meets glamour. The Ugg offers a refuge from the crucifixion of 7-inch heels. The Ugg is democratic. Even the Duchess of Cambridge wears Uggs.
Nominated by: Ben Davis, art critic.
I’m not sure that Christian Marclay’s The Clock really needs any more praise. But you also can’t deny it: No single work of visual art of the recent past even comes close to having the same impact. Last year, when it debuted at the London gallery White Cube, it attracted blockbuster crowds. At Paula Cooper in New York, people camped out to experience the full sweep of the 24-hour video installation. “The Clock” has become an immediate touchstone, snapped up by the country’s major museums—LACMA, MoMA, the MFA Boston—and drafted into service at international art spectacles in Japan (the current Yokohama Triennial) and Italy (the Venice Biennale, where it won the Silver Lion for best work on view earlier this year). Evidently, The Clock is capable of touching a truly broad and popular audience as well as the cognoscenti, not something you can say about just any old work of contemporary art.
In essence, The Clock is a single-channel video, usually shown on a large cinema screen, comprised of thousands of short clips from film history—from High Noon to Pineapple Express—stitched together into one epic, free-associative montage. What makes this more than just an overgrown YouTube video is the narrative that unites it all: time. Each clip has been selected because it somehow features a temporal reference, usually in the form of clock somewhere on-screen, with the moment on-screen syncing up to the moment in real time, as you watch it. Thus, as a viewer, you schizophrenically leap from one universe to the next, from drama to horror to comedy and back again, never settling down—but always aware that each moment is chained to the relentless beat of the present. The effect is almost magical: The Clock is both cerebral and visceral, both a mammoth work of pop art and almost spiritual in the way it puts you in touch with time. As a creative achievement, it feels at once completely contemporary but also—to be cute—completely timeless.
Nominated by: June Thomas, Slate cultural critic
I don’t usually take my TV cues from Jacob Weisberg, but the Slate Group’s editor in chief was absolutely right when he declared The Wire to be “the best TV show ever broadcast” in this country, because it “portrays the social, political, and economic life of an American city with the scope, observational precision, and moral vision of great literature.” In fact, The Wire could not have existed in any medium but television, where it was given 60 hours and a cast of hundreds to work out its epic sweep. The show’s creator, David Simon, recruited some of the best chroniclers of urban America, including George Pelecanos and Richard Price, to the writing team; and provided great black actors with roles worthy of their talents. (Omar! Bubbles! Prop Joe! Brother Mouzone!) But what elevates The Wire above other great shows of this century (The Sopranos, Mad Men, Foyle’s War) was the decision to keep things fresh by focusing each of the five seasons on a different aspect of Baltimore life: the drug trade, the docks, city politics, the school system, and the newspaper industry. If there’s a more disturbing portrait of 21st-century America than Season 4 of The Wire, I’ve yet to encounter it.
The High Line and Brooklyn Bridge Park
Nominated by: Witold Rybczynski, Slate architecture critic
Product design tends to change so rapidly, and most electronic devices have such a short life that they barely have time to become “classics.” Will anyone remember the iPhone in 50 years? I doubt it—we’ll have something better. Architecture has just gone through the heady mill of an economic boom, which made for many expensive and extravagant buildings, but few, I suspect, that will be greatly admired in the future. My pick as long-lasting designs are two urban parks. The High Line, not because it will necessarily spawn many imitators, but because it marks a coming together of urbanism, nature, and fashion, in a way that will, I suspect, mark an era. The other, also in New York, is Brooklyn Bridge Park, which will become a model—for creatively reusing industrial urban land. Its low-key design well suits the stringent economic times that seem to be on the horizon. It’s not Central Park, but it’s as close as our generation will get.
Avenging Angel, by Craig Taborn
Nominated by: Seth Colter Walls, jazz critic
During an interview with Jason Moran, right after the jazz pianist’s receipt of a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2010, I asked him to free-associate about some of his contemporaries. He seemed diplomatically taciturn in several cases, though when I asked Moran for his thoughts about Craig Taborn, he paused and shifted to real talk. “Everyone who plays piano knows what Craig is doing,” Moran told me, with what felt like awe.
But that’s not the same thing as the ideal number of people knowing about what Craig Taborn is doing. In part, the pianist has been to blame. While he’s recorded as a sideman on a dizzyingly diverse (and high-quality) number of albums that runs into the dozens, until this year’s solo CD Avenging Angel, he hadn’t put out anything under his own name since 2004.