American painter, photographer, and printmaker Ben Shahn (1898–1969) is known for his poignant, often strident images that point to social and political injustices. According to the artist, his inspiration for this print of New York skyscrapers under construction was the personal pain he experienced upon “seeing the city I grew up in being covered by the new wave of concrete and glass.” Shahn’s affection for New York reveals itself in his more detailed renderings of the old buildings in the foreground, which he enhanced with applied colors. Vertical lines of text quote the Alexandrian mythographer Maximus of Tyre (fl. second century CE). By including the ancient writer’s reference to the revered Greek sculptor Phidias, whose greatest works did not survive, Shahn links the illfated old New York with art well worthy to last the ages.
Living outside New York City by this time in rural Roosevelt on Long Island, Ben Shahn created a work that reflects fond memories of his youth and evocatively portrays one of the persistent quandaries of contemporary American life.