The public in public art

Fata Morgana is now on view at Madison Square Park. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Fata Morgana is now on view at Madison Square Park. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Brooke Kamin Rapaport, Martin Friedman  Senior Curator, Madison Square Park Conservancy

Public outdoor sculpture is a communal activity. During periods of art installation, visitors to Madison Square Park can watch a project unfold over days and weeks. People discuss their perceptions and ask questions of me, my colleagues at Madison Square Park Conservancy, the install crews, and the presenting artist. Oftentimes, park goers watch this process with a sense of wonderment and pride; I have seen groups of neighbors applaud an artist at key moments during a temporary work’s on-site creation. Once complete, the public role in public art is further revealed as people interact with the piece by walking around the sculpture, taking their lunch next to the work or considering the merits of the project in conversation with co-workers, friends and family.

Creating outdoor sculpture in an urban oasis like Madison Square Park is unlike any other art experience. In preparation for major shows, museums and galleries draw the curtain for behind-the-scenes activity. When the curtain is pulled back, an indoor exhibition is complete and camera-ready. There is great theatricality on the opening day. By contrast, in constructing public art in real time right before your eyes, people view almost cinematic progress as a sculpture is made.

Our current project – six canopies of luminous, shimmering golden discs surrounding the pathway of the Park’s central, Oval Lawn – is by Brooklyn-based artist Teresita Fernández

Fernández, born in 1968, is a distinguished artist who has shown her work in national and international museums and outdoor sites. She is a 2005 MacArthur Foundation Fellow and served on President Obama’s U.S. Commission of Fine Arts from 2011 through 2014. She is the first Latina to serve on the Commission. Fernández’s work in Madison Square Park is titled Fata Morgana, a reference to a transient horizon line in nature that is like a mirage; a Fata Morgana in the sky is present for an illusory moment and then disappears.

Fernandez has conceived her Park project to have a similar experience as viewers proceed under the canopies. People will see themselves reflected in the work. Sunlight, trees and weather will also permeate the sculpture through the mirror-polished discs. Painters and sculptors have long used light and shadow as a technique and Fata Morgana continues the tradition of creating with natural opposites, forces that heighten imagery and meaning.

Phase I of Fata Morgana – securing the steel structure – was complete earlier this month. You will see the shiny, mirror-polished discs installing over the coming weeks. The project will be complete in late May.

Public art serves as a catalyst for dialogue and for inspiration. And each artist in our program has interpreted the site differently, through materials, form, content, and scale. We have received a number of calls and emails about Fata Morgana. People have come up to the installation crews and to Conservancy staff with their ideas about the work. There are many who are excited by this extraordinary piece of public art and there are some dissenters. I hope that when the project is complete, you will come to have great respect for Fata Morgana and that it may inspire you to see the park and the everyday steps we all take in profound ways.

One thought on “The public in public art

  1. The installation of this art was extremely disruptive to the natural environment of the park. As it stands it blocks sunlight. It seems as though The existing design of the park is not appreciated by these are folks. This installation is too large and intrusive. I hope that the Conservancy puts the brakes on further expansive and invasive exhibitions.

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