By Maria Rocha-Buschel
The Madison Square Park Conservancy announced at the beginning of this month that a multi-tier sculpture from American artist Martin Puryear will be the next public installation in the park beginning next May. The structure, which resembles a gilded rollercoaster and called “Big Bling,” will be the largest temporary outdoor public work that Puryear has completed, at 40 feet long and almost 40 feet high.
The structure is the 33rd public art installation by Mad. Sq. Art, the contemporary art program of the conservancy, and will be made of birch plywood and 22-karat gold leaf with multiple levels and wrapped in a fine chain-link fence. It will also include a gold-leafed shackle anchored near the top of the structure.
Puryear, who lives and works in the Hudson Valley region, tends to focus his work on handmade pieces using methods such as carpentry, boat building and other similar trades. His signature material is wood, which he is using for the Madison Square Park sculpture and which serves to anchor the physicality of the enormous piece.
Senior curator Brooke Kamin Rapaport said that the conservancy has been working with Puryear for about a year and a half to develop the piece. They approached him to create a commissioned work for the conservancy, and Big Bling is what he proposed.
“It’s an extraordinary work and though it’s a temporary outdoor piece, it maintains all of the strengths and power of his indoor projects,” she said.
The sculpture is supposed to suggest a building that is accessible by ascension through its multiple tiers. The different levels are obstructed by the chain-link fence, which are a barrier to entry into the piece and will cover the visible surfaces of the wood sculpture. The gold fence is meant to provide a contrast to the coarse materials used throughout most of the piece and the use of “bling” is a reference to the rap culture of the 1990s and the flashy jewelry with which it is often associated.
Rapaport noted that Puryear frequently features stark contrasts in his work.
“Puryear often balances abstraction with powerful metaphor and Big Bling sits within this trajectory,” Rapaport said. “Public art is a communal activity. Its reach can be significant for communities and neighborhoods, and Puryear has captured this concept with a public sculpture of grand scale and important content.”
Fata Morgana, the mirrored canopy installation from Teresita Fernandez that’s currently in the park, will remain on view until January 10 and Big Bling will debut on May 16. Puryear’s installation will be on display through the following year, until January 8, 2017.
In previous installations, artists have created sculptures that park goers can climb over or crawl under, but Rapaport said that the interactions with Puryear’s work will be intellectual rather than physical.
“The interactions will come in how people think and consider this work as a public outdoor sculpture,” she said. “(The piece) will elicit a range of readings and stimulate a dialogue because that’s what public art does. This is part animal form, part abstraction but it’s also a meditation on urban society.”