One of the most stirring art forms to emerge in the '90s is Joshua Neustein's installations of ash cities. These are three-dimensional maps created out of industrial slag, byproducts of the coal and electric industries, installed on huge museum floors where viewers are invited to wander about within the exhibit to get a full sense of the transformation the artist has created.
The book, Joshua Neustein: Five Ash Cities, illustrates five installations-done from 1996 to the present-in 90 splendid color and black and white photographs. It contains as well four groundbreaking essays by Arthur Danto, Hilary Putnam and Kristine Stiles. The text is in English and Hebrew with excerpts in Arabic.
The first ash city was installed in the South Eastern Center for Contemporary Art at Winston Salem, North Carolina. Neustein constructed a map of old Salem, and from the ceiling he suspended an opulent crystal chandelier, low and close to the ground. The work, "Light on the Ashes," reflects both the historical ideals of the immigrant Moravian settlers, as well as those of its present residents who live in the heart of the tobacco industry.
In Berlin, at the Gropius Bau museum, Neustein reconstructed a map of the city in 1912. He named the work "Aschenbach," after Thomas Mann's protagonist in the 1912 novella Death in Venice.
The artist journeyed to Warsaw and created "Light on Other Ashes" at the Center for Contemporary Art. He dedicated the work to the 4,250 Polish soldiers who were massacred in the Katyn forest during WWII.
In Cleveland, Ohio, Neustein's installation of the city map at the Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art was titled "River of Ashes." The 1969 burning of the Cuyahoga River was the result of pollution, and the artist suspended large blocks of coal over the areas on the map that suffered the greatest environmental abuse.
"Domestic Tranquility, Bne Brak," became the fifth ash city. Invited by the Herzliya Museum of Art in Israel to inaugurate a new wing, Neustein deliberated on which city to honor: Jerusalem, Herzliya, Beirut, Gaza? Ultimately, for the sake of contrast, Neustein chose Bne Brak, an ultra-orthodox city within, but isolated from, Tel-Aviv, the secular cosmopolitan center.