Fall looms over New York but there's still time to see four public art projects presented this summer by Brooklyn artists. Maria Elena Gonzalez sited her work in a Brooklyn park, while Christine Hill, Ron Baron and Andrea Zittel crossed the East River to do their thing in Manhattan. All four works are sponsored by the Public Art Fund.
Urban flying carpet
If magic carpets were made in Brooklyn, you could fly above the traffic off to your own private Shangri-la. Maria Elena Gonzalez has built a playful kind of urban magic carpet in Coffey Park in Red Hook. Shaped like the undulating floor plan of a typical six-room apartment in nearby Red Hook East Housing, Magic Carpet/Home seems to hover just above ground level. The work measures 27 x 39 feet and is constructed from wood and a black rubber material similar to that used in playgrounds. The floor plan is rendered on the surface in opaque white paint and looks like an architect's plan.
In a series of sculptures recently exhibited at the Project in Harlem, Gonzalez constructed minimal furniture-like forms in black rubber and white ceramic tiles. These pieces entitled Resting Spots evoked metaphors of the body while exploring the social function of furniture, particularly stools. By adding myth to this formula, Gonzalez conjures up a gigantic sculpture that's able to lift both our spirits and our consciousness.
Where are we going?
A certified New York City tour guide, Christine Hill set up shop in the Deitch Projects storefront and has been leading walking tours of lower Manhattan since the beginning of the summer. Not your average travel agency, Hill's Tourguide? asks "Where Exactly Are We Going?" and takes its answers from sources ranging from Baudrillard to Warhol. New York City "attractions" shown in the Tourguide? brochure include a disabled bike chained to a street sign, a pair of police cars stuck in traffic and three tourists in floral shirts.
All this leads us to ask, "Where is Christine Hill coming from?" Well, she has been living in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, since returning to America in 1997 as the Berlin representative at P.S. 1's International Studio Program. In fact she is American by birth, but spent the early '90s honing her act in Berlin. Her concept of an "everyday job as artistic activity" led her to work as a masseuse, a waitress, the lead singer in the German rock band Bindemittel and the shopkeeper of Volksboutique (a second-hand clothing store as artwork that snagged Hill a spot in Documenta X in Kassel).
While in New York, Hill has studied improvisational theater with the Upright Citizens Brigade, met her idol Conan O'Brien and become fascinated with office supply and 99 Cent Stores. Last fall she spent several months in Tokyo, where she created Stereotype (with Lillevan Pobjoy) at the Watari Museum of Contemporary Art. The performance-installation project was an exercise in cliché investigation and serves as the point of departure for the ideas Hill explores in Tourguide?
I took the two-hour tour on hot and hazy Saturday in early August with a small group of curiosity seekers. Hill began her lively dialogue at West Broadway and Grand Street by reflecting on Rachel Whiteread's Water Tower, bringing notice to this sublime sculpture in the sky that almost disappears into the cityscape. We continued onto Canal Street where she pointed out a tattoo emporium and several street vendors while discussing the history of hucksterism. Turning onto Broadway we contemplated the endless wealth of cheap treasures at a store whose motto is "Serve Yourself and Save." Hill exchanged small talk with the owner while directing us to view an Arabic mural painted on a back wall of the shop by a previous occupant.
As we headed towards Chinatown, Hill paused to relate anecdotes about the studio and residence of artist Ross Bleckner (former site of the Mudd Club, a 1970s punk-rock venue), the New York City Rescue Mission, an old firehouse turned media center, the N.Y.C. Department of Corrections (where "Air Nike sneakers are considered contraband "), an incense-filled Buddhist temple on Lafayette Street, a florist who sells caged birds, the Storefront for Art and Architecture, the Center for the Dull (a second-hand shop that's a temple to polyester) and Tunnel Stationers, the final stop (whose husband and wife proprietors had been a source of inspiration for Hill).
By bringing attention to the ordinary and the unusual, Hill reminds us that New York City is vast and endless, and can be very amusing -- especially if you do as Hill does and "make the most of what you've got."
Traveling west from Soho to the Hudson River brings you face to face with the enchanting waterfront installation of Williamsburg artist Ron Baron. Birds is his recently completed arrangement of Nova Scotian lobster buoys on the dilapidated pilings of the former Pier 34. Like a postmodernist Constantin Brancusi, Baron has become known for sculptures that are basically vertical stacks of commonplace objects -- china plates, books, bowls, cigar boxes, trophies and shirt labels. His work was recently included in the exhibition "Domestic Transformations" at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. With Birds, Baron alludes to Brancusi's famous sculpture Bird in Space, an elegant silhouette of a bird perched on a base.
Baron's Birds consists of nearly 60 buoys placed on top of the abandoned pilings that jut from the water's surface. At low tide the pilings act as pedestals for the buoys, but as the tide rises the pilings disappear offering only glimpses of the installation. The buoys are hand-carved cedar and are painted with different colors and patterns to identify the various lobster fisherman that own them. Their simple, elegant forms are both archetypal and modern.
The last of our Public Art Fund works is Andrea Zittel's A-Z Deserted Islands, six floating sculptures sited in the Central Park Pond. Originally created for the 1997 Munster Sculpture Project, Zittel's white, fiberglass islands double as boats. Each sculpture has a vinyl-covered padded seat and turquoise or red racing stripes, and they carry Zittel's A-Z palm tree logo. The bergs float in close proximity to one another to create a small community of islands -- sticking together while staying apart.
In Munster, A-Z Deserted Islands had to be anchored in stationary positions because the audience was using them like bumper cars. In their present location they seem to be on short leashes, and can only be reached by the brave or foolish. Most viewers can only imagine the pleasure of the voyage while enjoying their beauty. They're stylishly sleek as they float like cool chunks of ice and, in the hottest of New York summers, the irony was not lost on the comfort seekers at the water's edge.
Zittel has sited two more accessible works at Doris C. Freedman Plaza on the corner of the park at 60th Street and Fifth Avenue. Her two giant rocks, one 12 feet high, are constructed from steel armatures covered in concrete -- though they look like natural outcrops of Manhattan granite. Titled Point of Interest: An A-Z Land Brand, the work is Andrea Zittel's first public project in the United States.
The foundation of this project was laid with Raugh, her most recent exhibition at Andrea Rosen Gallery. There she constructed two large, artificial rock formations made of soft gray foam that functioned as natural furniture in the gallery. At the opening the craggy ledges were inhabited by a group of nude models, lounging while reading magazines and trashy novels. The concept of "living in the raw" was further developed by the video Rules of Raugh with its program for creating a stress free environment that allows you to be your primal self.
It may have been this search for the primal self that led Zittel from her home and studio in Williamsburg to the monkey house at the Berlin Zoo. It was there that she discovered a sculpted space that was "safe, static and indestructible and facilitated climbing, reclining, perching and just plain rolling around." These are the qualities possessed by the physical and social spaces of Zittel's impeccably crafted Central Park boulders. You may find nudity a difficult feat in midtown Manhattan, but you can climb and play, or sit and enjoy the serenity of a voyeuristic moment at an excellent vantage point from which to see and be seen. These things, and maybe more, are possible from Andrea Zittel's Point of Interest.