Friday, August 19, 2011

BIGGER IS BETTER! saratoga springs 9/11 sculpture very suitable for :art in public places, nytimes, 8/19/11.

The Bigger the Better for art in public spaces! SO what is Saratoga's problem with a wonderful 9/11 sculpture ready to go and be placed at the visitor's center?---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------9-11 sculpture will not be in place by 9-11; backers cry 'politics'
SARATOGA SPRINGS - The 9-11 monument won't have a permanent home by 9-11.

Saratoga Arts has been working since the Spring of 2010 to make sure the sculpture, "Tempered by Memory," would be complete, and in place by September 11, 2011, the 10th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center.

The sculpture is made from steel beams pulled from the downed towers. It stands 25-feet tall, and now just 25 days before September 11, the city can't decide where to put it.

"It's an election year and things will get stalled. That's what we're facing," says Joel Reed, executive director of Saratoga Arts, the group behind the sculpture.

It was supposed to go outside the newly renovated City Center, but the piece ended up bigger than first planned and the people who run the center decided it was too big. The City Council then suggested the front lawn of the Visitor Center, across Broadway from Congress Park. But the visitor center's advisory board is saying "not in my front yard."

So, now, as the clock ticks toward September 11th, it's a sculpture without a home. Saratoga Arts is crying foul saying the City Council reneged on its plan because it's an election year and leaders are afraid to take a stand.

"I wonder if this were last year, or next year, if this would've gone a little differently," says Reed.

The Republican mayor and the Democratic accounts commissioner dismiss the criticism as "ridiculous."

"It's unfortunate that this is being alleged on this issue. There's no politics involved here," says Mayor Scott Johnson.

"I would just tell Joel I don't own the property in Saratoga Springs. The taxpayers and residents do and they deserve input of where it should go," says John Franck, accounts commissioner.

Saratoga Arts will scramble to unveil the sculpture as part of a temporary display on September 11. A situation Reed says is less than ideal, "It's not meant to be just parked on a corner some place. Having it as a traveling road show, I don't think it does service to the art or the artist."

It is the outdoor art season in New York and therefore a good time to ask what makes for a successful piece of urban public art. When art ventures away from the nurturing shelter of the white-walled gallery, it must contend with all kinds of distractions: huge buildings; noisy vehicular and pedestrian traffic; spectacular, sexy commercial signs with dizzying video imagery; unpredictable weather; the verdant beauty of a park; and the sheer interestingness and variety of so much else that in the artificial and natural fabric of the city.

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One way for public art to distinguish itself is to be really big. This year’s prize for size should go to Jaume Plensa’s “Echo,” a gigantic, ghostly, white head of a girl in Madison Square Park. Towering 44 feet, it is made of molded fiberglass resin parts fitted together so the seams show. It looks as if it had been carved from a huge, laminated block of marble, and the girl’s features are rendered smoothly as if they had been eroded by the elements over the years. The head is also oddly distorted — flattened in such a way that it resembles a digitally manipulated three-dimensional photograph or a hologram. Viewed from a distance at night, when it is bathed in the bright light of lamps around its base, it seems to glow, a silently plaintive specter conjured, maybe, by the guilty conscience of a rapacious modernity.

Less spectacular but effectively haunting in its own way — partly because of its grand scale — is one of a number of works commissioned by the High Line: a greatly enlarged black-and-white photograph by Robert Adams mounted on a billboard next to that elevated park. Made in 1978 in rural Nebraska, the photograph shows a narrow, much weathered country road running between fields of tall grass and extending from the foreground to the top of a low, faraway hill. Dried, fallen leaves from small trees have gathered at the side of the road. A melancholy mood is enhanced by blocks of funereal black filling in the oblong expanse of the billboard on either side of the picture. Like Mr. Plensa’s sculpture the photograph evokes something neglected, a soulful road not taken. But there is too an eerie feeling of hopefulness, of a possibility not yet foreclosed. (The billboard will regularly present landscapes by eminent photographers selected by the photographer Joel Sternfeld.)

Mr. Adams’s photograph works not only because of its drive-in-movie scale but also because it is so different from the kind of visual material that normally attracts and assaults the public eye. A few yards farther up the High Line, strollers come upon another billboard: not an artwork but a huge advertisement for Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club. With its blaring purple and gold hues and the come-hither expression of the sultry woman it pictures, it must be an embarrassing thorn in the side of the High Line’s administrators, who clearly favor low-key subtlety over high-impact flash. Another expansive piece on the High Line, for example, is a long wall of windows by Spencer Finch called “The River That Flows Both Ways.” Each of hundreds of panes is the color of a pixel from a photograph of the surface of the Hudson River. Jade, wine, teal and other muted hues produce a lovely, quiet symphony of color.

An elephantine sculpture in front of the Seagram Building on Park Avenue at 53rd Street has much going for it: impressive scale, contrast with the normal environment and popularly appealing imagery. Urs Fischer’s “Untitled (Lamp/Bear)” is a 23-foot-tall representation of a lumpy yellow stuffed bear wedged into the space between the base and the shade of an old desk light. Weighing in at almost 17 tons, it is made of painted cast bronze and has table-top size button eyes sewn on with rope. The light glows at night. (Christie’s, the auction house that recently sold the sculpture, organized its outdoor presentation.)

For contemporary art followers the obvious comparisons are Jeff Koons sculptures like the giant shiny “Balloon Dog” and the flower-covered “Puppy.” But the Fischer displays little of the fanatical attention to surface and detail seen in Mr. Koons’s work. It also relates to the tradition of the Duchampian found object and the absurdist Pop Art monuments of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. Leaving aside its presumptive pedigree, however, it is not very different technically and aesthetically from the kitschy, Pop-realist sculptures of J. Seward Johnson, whose enormous representation of Marilyn Monroe in her upward-billowing dress has caused much debate in Chicago since its recent installation there downtown.

If Mr. Fischer’s sculpture is meant as an ideological Trojan horse, the marauders inside do not seem to be stirring. Nevertheless it is undeniably sweet, and there is something sad about it too. It shares with the works of Mr. Plensa and Mr. Adams a mood of regret for something left behind. It is also notable that Mr. Fischer’s first name is so close to the Latin word for bear; maybe the sculpture is a portrait of the inner child he neglected while pursuing his high-flying career. His Rosebud.

Sol LeWitt, one of the fathers of Conceptualism, made lots of excellent public art during his lifetime (1928-2007), most memorably in the form of colorful, graphically punchy murals gracing the walls of museums and other buildings around the world. His sculptures, on the other hand, do not fare so well outdoors. All but one of the 27 works in “Sol LeWitt: Structures, 1965-2006” in City Hall Park is white or off-white and severely geometric. Too many revolve around variations on open-framed cubes of painted metal. Pyramids made of concrete blocks that would be imposing in a gallery are dwarfed by buildings surrounding the park and look too much like temporary piles of construction material. It is hard to imagine many casual park visitors being captivated by the conceptual systems that gave rise to such rarefied abstractions. (The exhibition was organized by Nicholas Baume, director and chief curator of the Public Art Fund.)

The one sculpture that works here is “Splotch 15,” which is perfectly located just inside the park’s front gate. Painted in Playskool colors, it has slender, smooth peaks rising to different heights from an amoeboid footprint. It might be a three-dimensional graph of some worldly phenomenon, but whatever the mathematics underlying its forms, it has an infectious buoyancy and a hint of sci-fi futurism. A whole outdoor show of Splotches would be something to see.

Returning to the High Line you will find other works of doubtful outdoor effectiveness. For “Digital Empathy,” Julianne Swartz has hidden audio equipment in elevators, bathrooms and drinking fountains that plays digital voices intoning ostensibly informative, affirming and reassuring messages. But if you listen closely, the voices sound like those of aggressive, mind-controlling radio announcers in a dystopian movie based on a story Philip K. Dick. With “Space Available” Kim Beck has positioned what look like old-fashioned billboard scaffolds on the roofs of nearby buildings, which, with some difficulty, can be picked out against the skyline. I could spot only one, high atop the tallest building just south of the High Line’s southern entrance. It looks like a three-dimensional construction, but in reality it is a silhouette cut from flat panels. Such low-visibility, high-concept artworks as these are unlikely to make big impressions on the average High Line visitor.

In short supply this year is a type of public art that engages with the world in some practically beneficial way. An exception is a sculpture in the form of an ultramodern avian habitat by Sarah Sze. Divided in half by the High Line boardwalk, the work consists of faux-wood-covered birdhouses with parallelogram sides built into grids of shiny metal rods that converge to single points like perspective sightlines. There are geometrically shaped stainless-steel cups for seeds and water too. Much to my disappointment there was not a bird in sight. It is like a utopian housing project now awaiting demolition because its accommodations are too sterile for the unenlightened masses. Perhaps the structures are too close to the boardwalk and the passing throng. Or maybe these sharp-edged, coldly artificial houses just are not what birds like. Nevertheless, it is a nice idea. How about a luxury high-rise for squirrels?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

New York Times ??? Try saying that the article is really from WNYT !! Geee...