Syrian artist will combine plants with sculpture at park installation

A rendering depicts one of the sculptural works by Diana Al-Hadid that will appear at Madison Square Park in May. (Rendering courtesy of Justin Gallagher)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

This spring, visitors to Madison Square Park can expect to find a series of six new sculptures from Syrian-born American artist Diana Al-Hadid, which will be the first installation at the park that combines sculpture with plant materials.

The Madison Square Park Conservancy announced that the outdoor exhibition, “Delirious Matter,” will appear on the park’s Oval Lawn in May. This is the first major public art project for the artist, whose works of female figures will appear to melt into their surroundings.

“I am thrilled to have my first large-scale public project on the lawns and in the reflecting pool of Madison Square Park,” Al-Hadid said. “This is the first time my work will be made and seen at this scale. It’s my largest project by far and my largest audience.”

Two walls on the Oval Lawn will be combined with rows of hedges to form a room and three reclining female figures will sit on heavy bases displayed on the surrounding lawns, separately titled within the installation as “Synonym.” There will also be a site-specific sculptural bust of a female figure on top a fragmented mountain in the park’s reflecting pool and is titled “Gradiva.”

The walls will measure 36 feet and 22 feet long, with both walls 14 feet high, but the porous material will allow park-goers to see through it and view the rest of the installation as well as the rest of the park and surrounding cityscape. The figures will be created with poured polymer modified gypsum and fiberglass.

Al-Hadid’s work is known for using traditional materials in unfamiliar ways that switches between architecture and abstraction and her figures often have an eroded appearance, which she has described as “a blend between fresco and tapestry.”

One of the sculptures to be debuted at the park (Photo by Tony Prikyll)

Al-Hadid is inspired by a number of different styles and sources, including Northern Renaissance art, Medieval Islamic miniatures and ancient frescoes, and she has said that these interests reflect her perspective as an immigrant who moved from Syria to Ohio as a child.

“I was educated by Modernist instructors in the Midwest, but also was raised in an Islamic household with a culture that very much prizes narrative and folklore,” she said.

Brooke Kamin Rapaport, deputy director, and Martin Friedman, senior curator of Mad. Sq. Art, noted that the artist’s work is reminiscent of various mediums, showcasing her different influences.

“Al-Hadid’s work summons sculpture and painting, architecture and literature in a beauteous, atmospheric narrative,” Rappaport said. “The opportunity to bring her work to an outdoor site for the first time is gratifying.”

The installation will be on display across the central lawn, peripheral lawns and the northern reflecting pool from May 7 to September 3. This will be the 36th public installation for the conservancy since the program began in 2004. The current installation of suspended lights, Erwin Redl’s “Whiteout,” will remain on display through March 25.

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