Art, Scale & experience in New York City (Public sculpture ii)

A favoured day-trip for tourists in New York (like ourselves) is walking across the amazing Brooklyn Bridge over the broad and mighty East river, finally arriving at the borough of Brooklyn itself,  then spending a very pleasant day there.

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Many people start around the Dumbo area (above),  others stroll along the seaside linear park,  (its possible of course to do both)  then many people also turn upwards,  to the lovely district of historic Brooklyn Heights.

We of course, as tourists to the marrow,  were no exception to any of this.   We did all these things, and loved them.

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The seaside linear park/ promenade area has great, famous, views back to the towering skyscrapers of Manhattan, and that iconic skyline.

But I was also stopped in my tracks by this interesting installation.  (below)

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True, this piece, (an installation by Jeppe Hein, known for Mirror Labyrinths)  doesn’t look like much, at first.   Quite literally like nothing in fact, as it is basically a ring of tall vertical mirrors,  reflecting back what’s around it.

If anything therefore, the whole art piece from a distance almost disappears into air,  blending into the general skyscraper-backdrop, like some clever piece of hi-tech camouflage technology.

As one got closer though, and of course as you approach your angle and perspectives all change,  the work assumed some whole new dimensions and significance.

First of all,  you start to see yourself.  And let’s face it, who can resist a quick glance,  looking at themselves?

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By such devices, (an appeal to our vanity perhaps)  does the work draw us in.

Secondly though, you realise the whole thing is laid out like a clever ring, almost more like a spiral in fact,  with each slab of mirror very cleverly placed.

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.. at many angles, (and it’s not just about angles of course, but also time and movement and what’s happening at any given moment, but lets call it “at some  angles” for shorthand)  at some angles, the view is so fractured and disjointed, there just isn’t much to see.

At other times, the mirrors catch people perfectly, as they move through its space and orbit, creating that infinity, that reflections of reflections effect we all know and love.

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Here above, for example.

or indeed here, below…  just a tenth of a second later.

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In my opinion,  and this goes back to what I was also saying about the New York “Lego piece” on the HighLine)  in my previous post,  in my opinion works like these offer any viewer a genuine experience, through real interaction.  Also, by making a genuinely interactive work,  the artists shares and makes the so-called viewer into a participant and a collaborator and in fact a co-author of the work.  (please go read the Lego post if you really want to know what i mean)

This work can be experienced as purely a a fun distraction, as cool clever entertainment.  And there’s nothing wrong with that, that’s exactly how I experienced it and everyone else there.

Even better maybe, works like these, which we inhabit, we move around and experience in a very direct, physical, temporal, even “experiential” way, can maybe tell us something about experience itself.  Can make us think about how it’s linked to time, place, movement, distance, angle, how all our negotiations with the world are conditioned by these factors.   That seems obvious I know, even dumb maybe.  But that entire thought-process has huge implications for how we think about scale and space, and therefore how we live in, read and think about sculpture, buildings, architecture.  And yes, even cities.

I’d argue that minimalists works like these were mostly made first in New York (originally in the mid-1960s through the 1970s) precisely because of the nature of New York itself,  prompted by the nature of the city itself,  because NY is a city that is so much “about” scale.

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Its one of just a dozen of so cities in the world, where you can stand beside what looks like an absolutely vast building.   Then walk a hundred yards, look back and realise that that same building now seems dwarfed by another one, some unimaginable behemoth,  towering up,  just behind it.

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The relationship between scale and people and buildings is an important one.  As I say above, I think its important to reflect on scale and space, and sculpture, buildings, architecture. therefore how we live in, build, plan, inhabit and think about cities.

So anything that makes us think about space and scale, whether vaguely or clearly, consciously is a good thing, in my book anyhow.

If all that seems to lofty, vague or ambitious, I’d also make a simpler point.  I’d argue too that the best minimalist works helps us appreciate, often really enjoy, our physical experiences of shifting scales and perspective and angles more, somehow, in the real, the general world I mean.

Walking over the Brooklyn bridge, with that endless, shifting parallax, is a pretty good example.

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Like so much in life that was not intended to be art, per se,  the Brooklyn Bridge is in fact a really amazing piece of art.  Huge building and engineering projects often are.  And for me personally, minimalist sculpture, somehow, helps me appreciate this more.

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Okay, that’s me done,  for this evening anyhow.

*       *       *       *        *

My next, and final post on works of public sculpture in New York will feature miniature bronze men,  living in a New York subway station.

Until then,  and as always, thank you for reading.

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2 thoughts on “Art, Scale & experience in New York City (Public sculpture ii)

  1. When looking at all the vastness my mind, uneducated in matters architectural, turns to thoughts of the sheer human endeavour that went into their construction. Labour (much of it Irish) thrown at the projects with little regard to health & safety. If a man was injured, or worse, there was a queue ready to take his place up in the heights. The end result is awesome.

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