I waited for the first snowfall to revisit Mel Kendrick’s sculptures in Madison Square Park, not due to procrastination (only) but because they said these blocky, concrete dolmens looked good in any weather. In fact the snow robs their edges of precision, and its whiteness impinges on their Romanesque black-and-white stripes, which Kendrick achieved with careful alternating pours of black-tinted slurry.
But the scene had its winter magic, with children playing, making snow angels, and their parents taking pictures, as almost everyone seems to do these days. Even the profit machine known as the Shake Shack was open for business, with no waiting to put in your order for burgers, fries and hot coffee. Kendricks’ five sculptures, aligned in a series but each with its own personality, are collectively called "Markers," and remain on view Sept. 17-Dec. 31, 2009.
All in all a pleasant winter Sunday morning, until the hapless employee of the Madison Square Park Conservancy showed up with a New York City park ranger and chased the people away. That’s right, the park’s grand Oval Lawn was closed, they said, by order of faceless bureaucrats who, a few days before Christmas, have outlawed playing in the snow.
Imposing up close at over ten feet tall and as solid as stone, the sculptures are dwarfed by the surrounding cityscape. Kendrick is an old-fashioned sculptor, he cuts and carves his forms from a basic cube, but they have a deductive, formalist structure -- one shape is the negative space of the other, and sits on top of it. As for anthropomorphic character, they have little, suggesting if anything items of industrial manufacture.
Earlier, during balmier weather, the conservancy had been more welcoming, offering coffee and cakes to an elite group that included David Nolan, the artist’s dealer, who is placing the works in major collections (at $220,000 apiece), and Kendrick himself, who explained that he felt no kinship to earlier artists, like Brancusi or Stella, but regarded his sculptural practice as one of discovery. A veteran of the New York school, Kendrick deserves the spotlight that this installation provides.
You have a few more days to see the things, from behind the wire fence. Being banned from the park while it holds a fine artwork is a peculiar subtext, though one echoed in the new movie Up in the Air, which makes moving dramatic fiction from the real human pain of mass corporate layoffs. For this little lesson in the ways that Capital brings Art into being, send your thanks to Mike Bloomberg and his parks commissioner, Adrian Benepe. And remember this holiday season the good deeds of patrons Toby Devan Lewis, the Henry Luce Foundation and other funders of the Madison Square Park Conservancy.
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.