Weekly Update – Two great public art pieces in New York


This week’s Weekly has my review of two New York public art projects, David Byrne‘s Playing the Building and Olafur Eliasson‘s New York City Waterfalls. Below is the copy with some pictures. More photos at flickr. And see Libby’s post on the waterfalls. See more waterfall pix at flickr. See more Playing the Building pix.

Olafur Eliasson
Olafur Eliasson, New York City Waterfalls, Governor’s Island

Summer’s a great time to go on safari and see public art and right now New York’s got the goods: David Byrne’s “Playing the Building” at the Battery Park Maritime Building and Olafur Eliasson’s “The New York City Waterfalls” in the East River.

These projects are great examples of the kind of edgy, unexpected public-space spectacle that can happen when you combine an artist’s vision, some dollars and support from your city.

Olafur Eliasson
Waterfall at Brooklyn Promenade

Danish-Icelandic artist Eliasson, known for creating atmospheric environments that are both social and spiritual, has concocted four streaming water gushers in the river between the Manhattan Bridge and Governor’s Island. The falls, produced by the Public Art Fund, are not trompe l’oeil mini-Niagaras but a big-boned water spectacle. It’s as much about the infrastructure of the city’s plumbing pipes and crossbeams as it is about the lovely lacey and frothy cascades.

The piece is a a meditation on community and city. The pulsing curtains of water pull your attention in to an almost zen-like space. One thing to contemplate is how they engineered the water to come up the pipes and shoot down the 90- to 120-foot drop without harming the ecosystem of the East River.

Olafur Eliasson
On the boat

This is a less austere and more environmental work than many of Eliasson’s past installations (like his trippy color-immersion chamber at Arcadia University Art Gallery in 2004). These aren’t real waterfalls and they aren’t a substitute for the real thing, but as public art they seem new. Anti-monumental, playful and childlike, they’re like apparitions given to the city by a benevolent Aquarian ghost.

Olafur Eliasson
New York City Waterfall, Brooklyn Bridge

There are many ways to see the waterfalls, day and night. The PAF website has bike and pedestrian maps and a link to a special $10 Circle Line boat ride that takes you out for 30 minutes to see all four.

David Byrne, Playing the Building
Man playing David Byrne’s Playing the Building

David Byrne’s “Playing the Building”—ostensibly the polar opposite of the waterfalls—actually has much in common with Eliasson’s work. The piece plops an antique organ into the 1909 Great Hall of the Battery Maritime Building and tricks it out with electronic wires and cables attached to noise-making gizmos on the pillars, ceiling and walls of the soon-to-be- redeveloped space.

David Byrne, Playing the Building

Visitors can play the organ, so people wait in line for private moments onstage. The sounds are knocks, taps, screeches, groans and hoots that don’t add up harmonically—but no matter. The organ is beautiful and the high-ceilinged skylit space bathes the room in celestial light.

David Byrne, Playing the Building
Photo from the opening by artblog pal, Brent Burket.

Apart from the loud industrial noises, the room is hushed like a church. A hundred years ago New Yorkers would’ve paced this room waiting for the ferry to Brooklyn. Today they’re pacing through machine noises that echo that long-ago era. Byrne’s piece, like Eliasson’s, celebrates the sounds and sights of the city in a way we don’t often slow down to notice.

Public Art Fund and Creative Time began more than 30 years ago during the heady experimental ’70s. Philadelphia, now experiencing a heady experimental art explosion of its own, needs a public art fund for these creative times. We don’t need $15 million waterfalls in the Schuylkill (we have our own and it’s gorgeous and free). What we do need is an agency with the vision to create exciting public art that’s not another mural or another bench to rest on.

Olafur Eliasson: The New York City Waterfalls
Through Oct. 13.
Pier 35, Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn Piers, Governor’s Island,
New York, N.Y.

Playing the Building: An Installation by David Byrne Through Aug. 10.
Battery Maritime Building,
10 South St.,
New York, N.Y.


david byrne, olafur eliasson, playing the building, the new york waterfalls



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