In the absence of any organized celebrations for the holiday, I spent the afternoon of July 4th stretching my legs in midtown and enjoying the sites ‘on exhibit’ in the museum of the streets. At the southwest corner of Madison Avenue and 57th Street, I paused to appreciate a monumental sculpture that I’ve been passing by for years now, which is Alexander Calder’s bright orange, steel installation known as Saurien.
Saurien reaches a height of 18 feet at its tallest point, and the piece reminds me of one of Louis Bourgeois‘ monumental spiders, in that it stretches its ‘legs’ across the entrance to the IBM building, inviting visitors to walk under and around it. Although I’ve never read this in a formal description of the sculpture, one critic has claimed that this Calder is clearly meant to represent a dinosaur, with its stegosaurus-like spikes emerging from the top two arches. I can see that.
The irregular-edged, top forms inspired me to take this shot, with the spikes set in contrast against the skyline. Artsy!
While Calder is most famous for his kinetic sculptures and delicate, hanging mobiles, Saurien is an example of the artist’s fixed work, which are called stabiles. Saurien was created in Calder’s Connecticut studio in 1975.
Alexander Calder’s Saurien is Located in Front of the IBM Building in Midtown, at 590 Madison Avenue, on the Southwest Corner at 57th Street, NYC.
The first time I laid eyes on Simone Leigh’s monumental Brick House sculpture I was on the bus heading uptown on 10th Avenue.
I looked up and there she was, gazing out over the oncoming traffic from her perch on the 30th Street overpass, which I am told is now known as The Plinth. A month or so passed before I was able to pay her a proper visit and find out what she is all about.
Brick House is a 16-foot-tall bronze bust of a Black woman with a torso that combines the forms of a skirt and a clay house. The sculpture’s head is crowned with an afro framed by cornrow braids, each ending in a cowrie shell. Brick House is the inaugural commission for the High Line Plinth, a new landmark destination for major public artworks in New York City.
View of Brick House Looking East to 30th Street
This is the first monumental sculpture in Leigh’s Anatomy of Architecture series, an ongoing body of work in which the artist combines architectural forms, from regions as varied as West Africa and the Southern United States, with the human body. The sculpture’s title (which is familiar to most as the title to popular 1977-era song by The Commodores) comes from the term for a strong Black woman who stands with the strength, endurance, and integrity of a house made of bricks.
View From The Plinth Looking South Down 10th Ave
Brick House references numerous architectural styles: Batammaliba architecture from Benin and Togo, the teleuk dwellings of the Mousgoum people of Cameroon and Chad, and the restaurant Mammy’s Cupboard in Natchez, Mississippi. The sculpture contrasts sharply against the landscape it inhabits, where glass-and-steel towers shoot up from among older industrial-era brick buildings, and where architectural and human scales are in constant negotiation. Resolutely facing down 10th Avenue, Leigh’s powerful Black female figure challenges us to consider the architecture around us, and how it reflects customs, values, priorities, and society as a whole.
Leigh works across sculpture, video, installation, and social practice, stitching together references from different historical periods and distant geographical locations. As a sculptor, Leigh works predominantly in ceramics—a medium that she mastered early in her career—continually pushing the boundaries of her chosen material by working in new methods and larger scales. In her intersectional practice, Leigh focuses on how the body, society, and architecture inform and reveal one another. She examines the construction of Black female subjectivity, both through specific historical figures such as Josephine Baker and Katherine Dunham, and more generally through overlapping historical lineages across Europe, Africa, the US, and the Caribbean.
The High Line Plinth presents a series of art installations that rotate every eighteen months. Designed as the focal point of the Spur, the newest section of the park that opened in spring 2019, the Plinth is the first space on the High Line dedicated solely to new commissions of contemporary art.
Simone Leigh’s Brick House will be on View on The High Line Plinth (at the Spur), 30th St. and 10th Ave., NYC, Through September 2020. (Update: Due to Covid 19, Brick House has been Extended to Spring 2021.)
It’s not always easy to keep up with all of the Public Art installed in and around Manhattan at any given time, but I stumbled on the piece above, a towering, abstract white and cream fiberglass structure entitled Runner (2017), by sculptor Tony Cragg, when I visited the Park Avenue Armory for Nick Cave’sThe Let Go installion. Runneris right out front of the Armory at the corner of 67th Street. When I left the Armory, I snapped a few additional shots of Runner before heading back down town.
Runner is one of five monumental, abstract sculptures by Cragg, which present an opportunity for a leisurely stroll over nearly 20 blocks on this almost suburban Manhattan thoroughfare. The commanding sculptures exemplify Cragg’s experimentation with a variety of materials include the aforementioned fiberglass, stainless steel and bronze.
Runner with the Park Avenue Armory in the Background.
On the 4th of July, I decided to get some exercise and walk from 52nd to 79th Streets to check out the other four Cragg sculptures. Please enjoy my photos!
Mean Average, at 52nd Street, is a weighty composition made of bronze.
I tried to shoot each of the sculptures from a variety of angles.
You can get such a different impression of the work, depending on your perspective.
Elliptical Column at 57th Street is a nearly 20-foot tall spire made of shiny, almost liquid-like stainless steel.
The same white and cream fiberglass used for Runner is also used for Hammerhead at 72nd Street, and the brightness allows the sculpture to really pop against the surrounding landscape.
At 79th Street, the artist uses bronze again for Tommy, which has a blue-green patina. The vertical forms seemingly defy gravity while giving the impression of upward motion and kinetic energy, though they are static.
Tony Cragg’s Monumental Sculptures will be on Exhibit along Manhattan’s Park Avenue Malls at the intersections of 52nd Street, 57th Street, 67th Street, 72nd Street, and 79th Streets Through October 31st, 2018.
I went up to Central Park on a recent Sunday to check out the latest Public Art Fund-sponsored large scale sculpture, which is Yinka Shonibare MBE’s Wind Sculpture (SG) I, installed on March 7th in the Doris C. Freedman Plaza. Unfortunately, and likely in an attempt to keep people from climbing on the monumental artwork, the park had grouped a number metal crowd barriers around the base of the sculpture on all sides, which seriously hindered my ability to get really great photos. Still, I did my best.
One of Britain’s best- known contemporary artists, Yinka Shonibare (b 1962, London) spent his childhood between England and Nigeria. He settled permanently in London in the early 1980s, where he attended art school. Shonibare regards himself as a cultural hybrid, a product of complex and layered relationships forged by centuries of global trade, migration, politics, and cultural exchange. His work reflects these currents in ways that often playfully invite us to look beyond appearances and assumption about identity.
Wind Sculpture (SG) I takes on the paradoxical task of manifesting the invisible. We can’t see the wind, but we do see its effects. Here, the dynamic movement of a piece of fabric in a gust of wind is rendered in solid fiberglass on monumental scale. Covered with an intricate pattern, the 23-foot-tall sculpture rises above the plaza, reminiscent of the untethered sail of a ship billowing in the breeze. Its unique, hand-painted pattern in turquoise, red, and orange — colors that the artist associates with his childhood on the beaches of Lagos — is inspired by Dutch wax batik print, which Shonibare has called the “perfect metaphor for multilayered identities.”
Wind Sculpture is the first work in a second generation — thus (SG)1 — of his celebrated series and continues Shonibare’s ongoing examination of the construction of cultural identity through the lens of colonialism. The work creates an opportunity to reflect on social issues associated with our current moment, including the movement of people and ideas across borders and the role of monuments in heterogeneous societies.
This sculpture is unbelievably gorgeous and looks different from every angle. Next time I am in the area I will see if the eyesore barriers are gone, and if so I will add new photos to the post!
Yinka Shonibare’s Wind Sculpture (SG) I Will Be On View Through October 14th, 2018 at Doris C. Freedman Plaza, Located at the Southeast Entrance to Central Park (5th Avenue and 60th Street), NYC.
If you’ve even been to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) here in Manhattan, you probably have a favorite wing or exhibit hall, because everybody does. Most people seem to favor the Dinosaurs, and while those halls are certainly worth visiting at least once, I think they are a little played out. And while I do enjoy the Hall of Ocean Life, which is mind-blowing, my very favorite part of the museum are the Halls of Gems and Minerals, and I will recommend and rave about them to anyone who will listen. So, it was a pretty big deal to me when I received news from the AMNH that they will undertake a complete redesign of these very popular exhibit halls, currently known as the Morgan Memorial Hall of Gems and Harry Frank Guggenheim Hall of Minerals, transforming the 11,000-square-foot space into a gleaming showcase for their world-renowned collection! Wow! Not only that, but they also invited me to attend a media briefing event at the museum to witness the “Unveiling of a dazzling 12-foot-tall, 5-ton new acquisition!” Very exciting!
The new acquisitiion turned out to be a 9,000 pound Amethyst Geode mined in Uruguay, which will be on temporary view in the Museum’s Grand Gallery through the 2017 holiday season. The geode, which will eventually be a centerpiece in the new halls, is among the largest amethyst geodes in the world. I heard someone from the museum say that the Geode was nicknamed Stan. I am not sure if they were kidding or serious, but it pleases me to think that this gigantic rock crystal, which happens to also be my birthstone, has a nickname, and to wonder how they came up with Stan.