In his artist’s statement for the $15-million "Waterfalls" project to be forced on us from on high this summer at four points on the East River, Olafur Eliasson writes, "I believe that by seeing a work of art -- a waterfall, for instance -- we become co-producers of the work and its social context. Taking part in this type of collaboration requires that we take responsibility within the city that we love."
The East River is an artificial construct, manmade. On its banks, older African Americans cast fishing lines, yuppies run after work along narrow paths, gang members in the projects downtown throw those metal stars into tree trunks, and, once in awhile, a little kid jumps in. I’ll bet you some daredevil tries to toboggan, at risk of death, down one of the waterfalls this summer.
New Yorkers are tired of being lectured by elites about "taking responsibility" for a hometown in which they are harassed by film crews, blinded by the glare of glass buildings on the Bowery, tossed out of their apartments because some big company like Tishman Realty (Eliasson’s sponsor) bought the air rights to their building. If we really "took responsibility," we would tar and feather the do-gooders who are always dumping projects like the "Waterfalls" on us for our own good: Bloomberg, Agnes Gund, the Tisch family, Thomas Lee, Peter Norton, Don Marron, Kathy Fuld and on and on and on.
A better project, and cheaper, would be one of those old carnival acts, where you put these rich losers, who have made New York unrecognizable and unaffordable with their greed and "good works," one by one, on a chair above a pool of water. When you hit the target, they get dunked.
With the subprime crisis in full throttle, a plunging dollar and a credit crisis in the offing, it is amazing to me that these plutocrats dare to show their faces, much less brag that "Waterfalls" constructed by their own Albert Speer will bring $55 million into New York, or should I say the Tourist Simulacra That Was Once New York.
Not too long ago artists banded together in abandoned buildings to construct the Times Square Show or The International with Monument Show at Gowanus Canal. Keith Haring sprayed beautiful murals in Harlem playground and Jean-Michel Basquiat and Jenny Holzer left poetry on parking lot walls and tenement halls.
What did it get us but foul elites drowning us in molten gold. If justice and responsibility reigned, these waterfalls would burn.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).