If you are going to artist Jim Campbell's extraordinary installation "Scattered Light" at Madison Square Park in Manhattan, do it as I did, 'round midnight with someone you love. From different perspectives, this expanse of 2,000 randomly blinking white lights turns from a block of romantic ice to a marvelous frieze that projects the shadows of those walking behind it and back into a curtain of pure unending white.
Digital snaps, which everyone is taking, transform the work even further, as the image, in its blinkingness, congeals into a white solid and back into thin air like a dark phenomenon in microcosm. To investigate how Campbell pulled off this technical marvel, I induced my companion to vault me over a stanchion and the "Keep Out" sign on the eastern side of the park, and promptly (typically!) cut my leg.
This side of the park is dug up with tractors sitting around. In the dark, I couldn't make out whether this was an ill-timed "shovel-ready project" or a necessary part of the installation. In a patch of grass, more than a dozen white squares blink off and on like something out of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, relating perhaps to the blinking white bulbs in front of them. The effect of the piece on a sparse late night group of passersby was pure joy: spontaneous kissing, leaping dogs, smiling meditation and pure wonder: everything that art is supposed to be and rarely is these days.
I have said it before: Madison Square Park is the finest venue for contemporary art in New York. It puts aside the neurotic, ambiguous and often market-driven concerns of our elite curatorial class and, show after show, delivers pure pleasure at the highest level.
Jim Campbell, "Scattered Light," Oct. 21, 2010-Feb. 28, 2011, at Madison Square Park, 23rd Street and Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).