"Please write me real soon"

photograph of book from BooksLoveLiza

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New York City Museum of Complaint, in its incarnations as tabloid-sized newsprint giveaway in 2006 and beautifully produced full-fledged book, has made the rounds in the press (Times, NPR) but I only just recently heard about it. (Thanks Sam!) The book is a collection of about 132 letters written to the Mayor of New York City between the (seemingly arbitrary) dates of 1751 and 1969, compiled by artist/curator Matthew Bakkom from the larger stores deep within the Municipal Archives. Shockingly naive, sarcastic, baroquely formal, or barely sentient, they address the city's mayor as part personal savior, part  janitor.

In the days before the public forums of Facebook, twitter, and email petitions, the fine citizens and everyday wackos of this city had to get out the quill, ballpoint and typewriter and rant on paper in quiet seclusion. (Some drama queens even sent telegrams.) The letters chronicle issues real, imagined, laughable, or foreboding, from dead horses in the streets to lost dry cleaning, police brutality to matrimonial inquiries. Each missive is reproduced as full-sized facsimile — you can see the the uneven swells of ink and grain of the paper—with some tiny, quiet transcription text. Beautiful.

What a great idea for a book
; so how in the world did someone agree to publish something like this? The key thing appears to be that Museum of Complaint was conceived as an "art project" rather than quirky non-fiction book. And Bakkom seems to be adept at getting artist's grants. He likely had to wade through each mayor's term archives looking for the letters: I'm envisioning far-flung boxes exhaling dust, all sorts of unfamiliar feathery paper weights and cottony textures, perhaps an antiquated paper fastener, crinkley onion skin documents unfolded for the first time in a century. That's purely conjectural archival porn, however, because the book's missing a proper essay or even some anecdotal tidbits. (
And I find the author's statement very unsatisfying). Set the scene, tell me how we got here and how difficult it was to put this together. Perhaps I'm jealous because this is, to me, an ideal project: excavating obscure bits of historical material culture and giving them renewed life and relevance.

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