Public Art Manhattan

When I walk to work in the morning, I pass a big red metal sculpture on the corner of 57th and Madison. Like many pieces of large civic art, I barely notice it. Office buildings in the city include large abstract sculptural works in the same way that they include a public atrium (also known as a tax break).

Just down the street from my office stands the Lever House, at 54th St. and Park. Currently, it is displaying a light installation by Keith Sonner (that replaced a gold chain link fence complex) in it’s street-level glass box of a room. On the ground level, the Lever House also has benches, a fountain, and — wait for it– large Hello Kitties sculptures (by Tom Sachs, I think) in it’s courtyard area. These white, papermache-style figures are huge and solid. Sometimes tourists take photos with the Hello Kitty sculptures. On one hand, it’s fun, but on the other, I’m not sure that it works.

I question how well these public art displays function, and I think it’s a matter of context. Museum settings at least focus one’s attention. In the case of the Lever House, they own some pretty cool pieces (“Virgin Mother” by Damien Hirst, “Bride Fight” by E.V. Day, “The Hulks” by Jeff Koons) and are making them uniquely accessible to the public with no museum fees. Yet next to the skyscrapers of midtown, these large, awe-inspiring designs are subsumed. The street corner leaves them anonymous, and they become just another obstacle on the street for Manhattanites to speed past. Perhaps it’s a testament to Manhattanites’ drive that they can speed past works of art with a single glance.

Here works of art so easily become like the red sculpture (which happens to be by Alexander Calder) that I pass on my way to work: landscape.

6 thoughts on “Public Art Manhattan

  1. Great point. Before I even scrolled down to the end of your post I was thinking, “I never think of them as art, just landmarks.” So when you named them as part of the “landscape” I was def in the same thought process.

  2. I just thought I would add that the Bank of America Plaza in Atlanta (where I used to work…ugh) has the most AWFUL art in the lobby. One side, the side that faces the bank, features an enormous tapestry of currency. The other side is an enormous tapestry of a landscape. But it’s a really ugly landscape with pink azaleas. It looks like a giant hook rug crafted by a tiny grandmother. And the currency tapestry is just tacky. Of course, considering the building is the largest in the Southeast and features pink marble and gold accents on the interior…the standards are not too high.

    Also, I wanted to pass along this link of a photo of a building in Buckhead that actually has an image ON the building. Like they have turned the building itself into a canvas. Thoughts?

  3. I love Public Art…last night I passed the Park Ave exhibit at Lever House and I was warmed by the neon, of course, the Hello Kitty stuff on the other side is just amusing, I’m sure, to the many stressed people who go to and from their office. However, I didn’t make the light across the avenue and looked up and saw another charming steel sculpture flower-like set on the meridian, and I was enchanted. It was night and dark so I couldn’t find a marker for the artist…do you know?

  4. I have just been sent the 411 on the company that fabricates those canvases mentioned, on the front of buildings and also on the walls of large public spaces. The process is amazing in itself, an art. But I have never actually seen it, or felt what happens when one in surrounded by such a large piece of public artwork. Makes me think of Texas, they like everything king-size in Texas, but that’s another story.

  5. Lustyreader: yes, landscape or large scale decoration come to mind, which is kind of unfortunate

    Adriane: Likewise, large ugly public art is unfortunate.

    I quite like using buildings to project on. Right now on Houston St. in Manhattan an advertising company has been projecting a film on a building opposite, and it’s kind of cool. Likewise, I posted about Doug Aitken’s Sleepwalkers today, and that was quite cool.

    ArtChick1: I do know the metal flower you mean, but I don’t know what it’s called. I’ll have to take a closer look.

    I wonder if the large fabric panels are similar to the ones that theaters use to project on. I forget what they’re called.

  6. One problem is what to do with some of this “art” when it becomes “part of the landscape” = boring. Maybe it could be passed on to another city – some kind of “art swap.” A lot of the appeal of this kind of art is the novelty….

Leave a Reply