Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s “The Gates” opens in New York’s Central Park

On February 12, 2005, 7,503 orange curtains unfurl across New York City’s Central Park from thousands of gates. The art installation, Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s “The Gates,” will be gone by the end of the month, but it will leave a lasting impression and be remembered as one of the best-known and most beloved works of site-specific public art.

Husband-and-wife artistic duo Christo and Jeanne-Claude first conceived of the project in 1979. The city rejected their proposal in 1981, but, as the artists later stated, the arduous process of getting approval for such a massive installation on city property was itself an artistic performance. “He adds a dimension to the work, no matter what he thinks,” Christo said of the parks commissioner who first rejected “The Gates.” After years of negotiating and resistance from the denizens of the Upper West Side, construction began in 2004 and Mayor Michael Bloomberg unfurled the first curtain on the morning of February 12, 2005.

Like the couple’s previous works, which included wrapping Berlin’s Reichstag in cloth and hanging an enormous orange curtain across a Colorado mountain pass, “The Gates” was as conceptually simple as it was logistically challenging. It took over eight hundred workers to install the thousands of 16-foot-high gates, hung with cloth panels, which straddled 23 miles of Central Park’s pathways and transformed the park into a unique, ephemeral work of art.

Despite initial complaints from prominent locals like late-night host David Letterman, tourists flocked to see “The Gates” and most in the art world considered it an unmitigated success. “In the winter light, the bright fabric seemed to warm the fields, flickering like a flame against the barren trees,” wrote the New York Times. “Even at first blush, it was clear that ‘The Gates’ is a work of pure joy, a vast populist spectacle of good will and simple eloquence, the first great public art event of the 21st century.”

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First issue of “Vogue” is published

On December 17, 1892, Arthur Baldwin Turnure first publishes a new magazine, dedicated to “the ceremonial side of life” and targeted at “the sage as well as the debutante, men of affairs as well as the belle.” A product of the Gilded Age, Vogue has chronicled and influenced high society, fashion and culture ever since.

By the late 19th Century, the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the corporation had bestowed previously unimaginable levels of wealth upon a tiny but high-profile fraction of American society. Families like the Vanderbilts and Astors had the time and the means to build opulent homes, throw glamorous parties, and purchase the finest clothing. As such, their social activities became subjects of great interest for their peers as well as the less-wealthy but aspirational middle classes. Seeing “endless opportunities for running comment and occasional rebuke,” Turnure decided to create a magazine dedicated to this lifestyle, calling it “a magnetic wielding force.” The first issue featured a black-and-white drawing of a debutante on its cover, and early issues of Vogue extensively chronicled “the 400,” a set of elite socialites named for the alleged capacity of the Astors’ ballroom.

Publisher Condé Nast purchased Vogue in 1905, changing it to focus almost entirely on women and fashion and creating the first of its international editions (there are now over 20). The magazine has remained popular and relevant ever since, regularly featuring the work of world-famous models, photographers and writers.

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“House of Cards,” Netflix’s first original series, starts streaming

By 2013, Netflix had already fundamentally changed the way Americans consumed movies and television. The service offered unlimited DVD rentals—and, starting in 2007, direct streaming of many of its titles—for a flat monthly fee, a wildly popular model that almost single-handedly drove Blockbuster and other video rental stores out of business. In February of 2013, Netflix introduced House of Cards, the first major TV show that ran exclusively on a streaming service. It was another Netflix innovation that would alter the media landscape.

Director and producer David Fincher began developing an American version of the British political drama House of Cards in 2011. Cable and premium channels like HBO and AMC, which had experience with “prestige TV” programming, were in talks to pick up the show, but Netflix outbid them, hoping to begin its foray into original content with a bang. Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Spacey was announced in the lead role the same year, and buzz built around the show.

House of Cards’ first season was released all at once rather than episode-by-episode, another first. The show was a hit, garnering nine Emmy nominations, a first for a streaming-only program. House of Cards ran for five more seasons and received a total of seven Emmys and 56 nominations, ending with a final season that focused on Spacey’s character’s wife, played by Robin Wright, after a series of sexual misconduct allegations against Spacey became public.

Netflix had another major hit with Orange is the New Black, which premiered a few months later, and its original shows have numbered among the most popular in the country ever since. Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney+, and other streaming services have made a concerted effort to produce original content in the years since House of Cards debuted, and 60 percent of Americans now subscribe to at least one streaming service. In 2018, Icarus became the first Netflix production to win an Oscar, taking home the award for Best Documentary Feature, and the following year Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma won three Academy Awards.

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Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 debuts

Year
1824
Month Day
May 04

On May 4, 1824, Ludwig van Beethoven’s ninth and final symphony debuts at Vienna’s Theater am Kärntnertor. Having lost his hearing years earlier, the celebrated composer nonetheless “conducts” the first performance of his Ninth Symphony, now widely considered to be one of the greatest pieces of music ever written.

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Having established himself as one of the greatest composers of the era in the early 1800s, Beethoven had almost completely lost his hearing by 1814 but continued to compose. The Ninth Symphony required the largest orchestra ever employed by Beethoven, and was unusual at the time for its use of voices in addition to instruments. Beethoven hand-picked two young singers, 18-year-old Henriette Sontag and 20-year-old Caroline Unger, for the soprano and alto parts. He stood on stage and appeared to conduct the orchestra when the Ninth debuted, although due to his deafness the players were instructed to ignore the composer and instead follow Michael Umlauf, the actual conductor. Beethoven was several bars off from the actual music by the time the piece concluded. As he could not hear the applause, Unger had to turn him to face the audience as they hailed him with five standing ovations, raising their hats and handkerchiefs in the air.

Critics consider the Ninth one of Beethoven’s crowning achievements. The choral section, adapted from the Friedrich Schiller poem “Ode to Joy,” has transcended the world of classical music and become one of the most often-played and easily recognizable pieces of music of all time. The “Ode to Joy” has been interpreted in almost every way imaginable, and has been employed as an official or unofficial anthem by an enormous range of entities, including the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the Nazi Party, the East-West German Olympic Team and the European Union.

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Willie Nelson releases “Red Headed Stranger”

The following content is sponsored by Legacy Recordings.

On May 1, 1975, Willie Nelson releases “Red Headed Stranger,” a concept album that would become the country music maverick’s first smash hit.

Born and raised in Texas, Nelson made his way to the country mecca of Nashville, Tennessee by 1960. He quickly earned a reputation writing songs for other artists—including “Crazy,” which became a huge hit for Patsy Cline in 1961—and went on to record more than a dozen albums of his own.

In the early ‘70s, frustrated by the smooth, heavily orchestrated Nashville sound, Nelson moved to Austin, Texas. Amid the city’s growing hippie music scene, Nelson felt free to be his offbeat, bandanna-wearing self. He released “Shotgun Willie,” considered one of his best albums, in 1973, followed by “Phases and Stages.”

But like his previous albums, neither of them sold that well, and when his record company, Atlantic, closed its country branch, Nelson was left without a label. Fortunately, his agent managed to negotiate a contract with Columbia that gave Nelson complete artistic control (a rare thing in the music business).

In January 1975, while driving home from a ski trip in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, Nelson’s then-wife, Connie, reminded him of “Red Headed Stranger,” a ‘50s ballad written by Edith Lindeman and Carl Stutz about a grief-stricken cowboy that Nelson had played on the radio during his years working as a DJ. By the time they got back to Texas, he had spun the story of the song into the concept for his next album.

Combining Nelson’s songs with other songwriters’ work, “Red Headed Stranger” tells the story of the Stranger, a man with long red hair and blue eyes (like Nelson himself). After catching his wife cheating on him with another man, he kills them both, then goes on the run.

Nelson recorded the album in a small studio in Garland, Texas with a trusted group of musicians, including his sister and longtime collaborator, Bobbie. It took about a week and cost just $4,000 in studio costs. The sound was so spare—mostly just piano, guitar and drums—that executives at CBS Records (Columbia’s parent company) didn’t want to put the album out, saying it sounded like a rough demo and people wouldn’t want to buy it.

In fact, “Red Headed Stranger” hit number 1 on the country charts, and eventually went multi-platinum. The first single, “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” (written by Fred Rose) gave Nelson his first number 1 country hit, and his first Grammy Award, for Best Country Vocal Performance. In 2003, Rolling Stone put “Red Headed Stranger” at No. 183 on its list of the top 500 greatest albums, while Country Music Television (CMT) went even further, calling it the greatest country album of all time. 

Check out “Red Headed Stranger” from our sponsor, Legacy Recordings.

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Apple’s iconic “1984” commercial airs during Super Bowl XVIII

Year
1984
Month Day
January 22

During a break in the action of Super Bowl XVIII on January 22nd, 1984, audiences first see a commercial that is now widely agreed to be one of the most powerful and effective of all time. Apple’s “1984” spot, featuring a young woman throwing a sledgehammer through a screen on which a Big Brother-like figure preaches about “the unification of thought,” got people around the United States talking and heralded a new age for Apple, consumer technology and advertising.

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The ad was directed by Ridley Scott, who directed the genre-defining dystopian science fiction film Blade Runner in 1982. The spot was in a similar vein, depicting a bleak and monocrhome future where a crowd of bald extras—many of them actual skinheads from the streets of London—stood before an enormous screen broadcasting a message of conformity. A runner enters, pursued by police, and hurls the hammer at the screen, destroying it just as the Big Brother figure announces “We shall prevail!” The text in the last shot makes the references to George Orwell explicit: “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.”

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs loved the ad, but Apple’s board did not. They asked the agency that produced it, Chiat/Day, to sell back the time they had purchased for the ad, and “1984” only aired because Chiat/Day resorted to subterfuge, intentionally failing to sell back the time. It was the right decision: the ad achieved every company’s dream of becoming news itself, receiving free replays on news broadcasts the next day. Super Bowl ads were already big business, but many in the advertising world point to “1984” as the moment when the big game became a venue for innovative, marquee ads, which soon became e a major part of the overall spectacle of the Super Bowl. The spot also cemented Apple’s reputation for being iconoclastic, disruptive and forward-thinking, an image that has been central to its brand ever since. By telling a somewhat high-minded story and barely mentioning the product it was selling—no computers appear in the ad—it also helped establish that bolder, less literal advertising could be just as effective, if not more so, than simpler commercials.

READ MORE: They Can’t All Be iPhones: The Story of Apple’s Forgotten Flop

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Kendrick Lamar becomes the first rapper to win the Pulitzer Prize

Year
2018
Month Day
April 16

On April 16, 2018, the Pulitzer Prize Board awards the Pulitzer Prize for Music to rapper Kendrick Lamar for his 2017 album, DAMN. It was the first time the award had gone to a musical work outside the genres of classical music and jazz, a watershed moment for the Pulitzers and Lamar and a sign of the American cultural elite’s recognition of hip-hop as a legitimate artistic medium.

Born and raised in Compton, California, Lamar grew up in a community with a singular connection to the genre, and even witnessed two idols of 90s rap, Tupac Shakur and Dr. Dre, filming the video for their legendary single “California Love” in his neighborhood as a child. Even as rap took over the American music scene, many music and art critics refused to take it seriously, an attitude that only began to change in the 2000s as artists like Kanye West—whose 2013 tour featured Lamar as an opener—pushed it to new heights of musical complexity and social relevance. Lamar became known for the social commentary in his music, which Pitchfork has called “radio-friendly but overtly political,” as well as the breadth of his influences, which range from the West Coast rappers of his youth to jazz and spoken word. Plenty of Lamar’s lyrics referenced police brutality, systemic racism and other political topics, but many critics have praised his albums, DAMN. in particular, for placing personal stories within this context of societal conflict.

The Pulitzer committee called DAMN. “a virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.” Administrator Dana Canedy said that the decision to give the award to Lamar was unanimous, adding that it was “a big moment for hip-hop music and a big moment for the Pulitzers.” Lamar’s win was widely seen as a deserved recognition of his talent as well as an overdue acknowledgement of hip-hop’s contributions to American culture. Although some in the classical music community criticized the selection, former winners and nominees praised it. Ted Hearne, a composer who was nominated alongside Lamar, called him “one of the greatest living American composers, for sure.”

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Metropolitan Museum of Art opens in New York City

Year
1870
Month Day
April 13

On April 13, 1870 the Metropolitan Museum of Art is officially incorporated in New York City. The brainchild of American expatriates in Paris and a number of wealthy New Yorkers, the Met would not put on an exhibition until 1872, but it quickly blossomed into one of the world’s premier repositories of fine art, a position it holds to this day.

In 1866, a group of Paris-based American socialites that included the lawyer John Jay resolved to create “a national institution and gallery of art.” Jay and his friends appealed to the Union League Club of New York, which in turn gathered the social and political clout, as well as the financial backing, necessary for such an endeavor. On this day in 1870, the city granted them an Act of Incorporation, stipulating that the collection be kept open to the public year-round and free of charge.

The Met acquired its first object, a Roman sarcophagus, the following November. Its subsequent purchase of the Cesnola Collection of Cypriot Art, completed in 1876, made the Met North America’s premier destination for artifacts and artwork from Antiquity. Thanks in part to the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, Jay was able to acquire a stunning 174 pieces by the Dutch Old Masters in 1871, giving the museum a substantial collection by the time it opened at its first location in 1872. In 1880, ten years after its founding, the Met moved to its current location on Fifth Avenue at 82 Street. The Met continues to display some of the world’s largest collections of European and Antique art, and has expanded to include works from every continent and nearly every medium. Today, the Met is not only one of the leading artistic and social institutions in New York but one of the best-known and most-visited museums in the world, hosting around 7 million visitors a year.

READ MORE: 10 Works of Art That Made People Really Mad

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Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz divorce


Year
1960
Month Day
March 04

After 20 tumultuous years of marriage, actress Lucille Ball divorces her husband and collaborator, Desi Arnaz, on March 4, 1960. The breakup of the couple, stars of the hit sitcom I Love Lucy and owners of the innovative Desilu Studios, was one of the highest-profile divorces in American history at the time.

Ball met Arnaz, five years her junior, while she was acting and he was leading a band in the film Too Many Girls. They married six months later. Though the two were, by all accounts, deeply in love for most of their lives, the relationship was always tumultuous, due to both of them being in showbusiness and to Arnaz’s womanizing and problems with alcohol. Ball first sought a divorce four years into the marriage, but they reconciled and determined to strengthen their relationship by finding opportunities to work together. When CBS asked her to develop a sitcom, Ball insisted on having her real-life husband play her husband on the show. The network was hesitant to cast a Cuban-American as a co-lead, but the couple convinced them by putting on a live show and conducting a successful tour.

I Love Lucy ran from 1951 until 1957. It was popular for the entirety of its run, won five Emmys, and continues to be regarded as one of the most influential programs in American history. Once again challenging the powers that be, Ball and Arnaz wrote her pregnancy with their second child into the show, making it the first television program to depict a pregnancy. Desilu Studios, which they founded to produce the show, was for a time the largest independent production company in the country, and it produced a number of shows besides I Love Lucy, including Mission: Impossible and the original Star Trek. I Love Lucy and its successor, The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, lovingly poked fun at married life in modern America; however, the underlying problems of the real-life marriage it was based on never went away. Ball filed for divorce in 1960 and bought out Arnaz’s share in Desilu two years later, becoming the first woman to run a major television studio. Though the divorce was reportedly contentious, the two remained close for the rest of their lives, which they each spent in showbusiness.

READ MORE: How Lucille Ball Went From Comedic Actress to Television Pioneer

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“The Feminine Mystique” by Betty Friedan is published


Year
1963
Month Day
February 16

Though perhaps not the typical housewife—she had been involved in radical politics from a young age and had a degree in psychology from Smith College—Betty Friedan is often credited as the first to give voice to the suffering of millions of seemingly-content American women. Her book, The Feminine Mystique, published on February 19, 1963, shook the ground beneath an American society rooted in a myth of pleasant domesticity and supported by the physical and emotional labor of women.

The book examines the many ways in which women were still oppressed by American society. In addition to scholarly research, Friedan drew on first-hand accounts from housewives to explain how women were taught that homemaking and raising children was their sole purpose in life, how the education system and field of psychology made women who sought fulfillment elsewhere seem “neurotic” and the myriad ways that women’s magazines, advertisers and other elements of society reinforced women’s secondary status.

Even before it was published, The Feminine Mystique was called “overstated” and “too obvious and feminine” by people within the company that published it. After its release, much of the criticism essentially labeled Friedan a hysteric, while many women took offense at her suggestion that they were not fulfilled by their family and domestic duties. Other critics pointed out that Friedan focused almost exclusively on straight, married, white, middle-class women, or charged that she was complicit in the demonization of stay-at-home mothers.

Some of these criticisms have persisted, but only because The Feminine Mystique has remained relevant from the moment of its publication through the present. One the first signs of the emerging Second Wave Feminism, Friedan’s work was crucial in giving language to the frustrations women felt in the ’50s and ’60s. The book is credited with mobilizing a generation of feminists who would tackle a number of issues left unresolved by First Wave Feminism. Friedan influenced the push for the 1963 Equal Pay Act, the budding pro-choice movement, and other activists, both through her writing and through her co-founding of the National Organization for Women, whose charter she drafted in language similar to that of her book. On the 50th anniversary of its publication, The New York Times wrote that “it remains enduring shorthand for the suffocating vision of domestic goddess-hood Friedan is credited with helping demolish.”

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