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Justin Matherly’s New Beaches, 2012, in “Common Ground”
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Public Art


by Emily Nathan
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Standing at a podium in City Hall Park yesterday, May 23, 2012, beneath Paul McCarthy’s ICBM-sized inflated sculpture of a Daddies ketchup bottle, Mayor Bloomberg crammed handfuls of popcorn into his mouth. His munchies were shared by hoards of hungry press, all of whom had gathered despite ominous skies for the unveiling of Public Art Fund’s newest exhibition in the park, “Common Ground.” Curated by PAF director Nicholas Baume, the sculptures remain on view through Nov. 30, 2012.

The inauguration kicked off with a choral performance by the children’s choir of Saint James Church, a beaming procession of boys and girls in black and red robes who formed a circle, lay down on their backs and began to sing a haunting Latin hymn. When they had finished to resounding applause, proud parents furiously snapping photos, Bloomberg put the popcorn away -- someone called it his “special recipe” -- and said a few words.

“Some of you are probably wondering where Mommy’s mustard is,” he quipped, gesturing at the looming plastic condiment, “but the work behind me is actually not here to announce Nathan’s annual hot-dog eating contest. It is Paul McCarthy’s famous Daddies Ketchup, a sculpture that I hope will make us think and encourage us to laugh, along with all the other works in public art projects around the city.”

Smiling for the cameras, he said little more before handing the mic to Baume. “It is important to consider the context with a public exhibition like this,” the PAF director began, adopting a more serious tone. “I myself recently became a citizen in this country, and City Hall Park has great significance for thousands of people every day. Being here should remind us of our rights and responsibilities as adults in society.”

After listing the ten artists featured in the exhibition -- Jenny Holzer, Thomas Schutte, Roger Hiorns, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Amalia Pica, Elmgreen & Dragset, Justin Matherly, Matthew Day Jackson and Christian Jankowski -- Baume explained that the parents of Argentine artist Pica were once detained for their beliefs, and added that the show should provoke us to contemplate our individual role in a democratic society. “This exhibition was created in homage to the power and the potential of the spaces we share -- our common ground,” he said.

Finally he lightened up, turning to the three artists on site for the event -- a chiseled Matherly, a dashing Jankowski and a scruffy Day Jackson. “Working with artists like you,” he concluded, grinning mischievously, “is the reason I have no hair.”

Herewith, a preview of the show.

“Common Ground,” May 23-Nov. 30, 2012, City Hall Park, New York, N.Y.

EMILY NATHAN is assistant editor of Artnet Magazine. She can be reached at Send Email

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