Madison Square Park Conservancy installation confronts climate change

“Ghost Trees” will appear in Madison Square Park next June. (Rendering courtesy of Pace Gallery)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The Madison Square Park Conservancy announced on Tuesday that artist Maya Lin will design the 40th public art commission for the park, set to debut on June 8, 2020. The new “site-responsive” installation will focus on the impact of climate change on woodlands around the world. The piece, titled “Ghost Forest,” will take the form of a grove of spectral cedar trees sourced from the surrounding region, and will be presented in contrast to Madison Square Park’s existing tree line.

Lin worked with the Conservancy to source dead trees from the tristate area, including from the Pine Barrens in New Jersey, which is a site that has suffered severe deprivation. The Atlantic Cedars that will be installed as part of the piece were afflicted by extreme salinization during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 as a result of flooding and salt-water inundation, and were slated to be cleared to encourage the regeneration of surrounding trees.

Lin’s piece takes its name from the natural phenomenon of “ghost forests,” which are tracts of forestland that have died off as a result of climate change, due to sea-level rise and salt water infiltration. Lin frequently addresses climate change in her work and this installation will serve as a call to action for the public visitors who pass through the park on a daily basis.

The installation intends to emphasize the grim reality of this naturally-occurring phenomenon to the public in a dense urban environment and encourages viewers to consider natural practices that can help restore and protect the ecosystem.

“As one of New York’s beloved public greenspaces, the Conservancy is committed to advancing environmental stewardship at the park and beyond through our mission and program,” the Conservancy’s Executive Director Keats Myer said. “We are honored to be collaborating with Maya Lin to realize this powerful new commission that will heighten awareness of the realities of climate change and of urgent environmental issues that affects us all.”

The installation will also be complemented by a series of public programs, as previous installations in the park have done, in addition to lectures, and there will also be events that explore the challenges of climate change and propose possible nature-based solutions.

“Ghost Forest presents two striking alternatives within the context of Madison Square Park—the ashen trees standing in contrast to the vibrancy of the park,” said Brooke Kamin Rapaport, Deputy Director and Martin Friedman Chief Curator of Madison Square Park Conservancy. “The Conservancy’s public art commissions are transient by nature. Ghost Forest underscores the concept of transience and fragility, and stands as a grave reminder of the consequences of inaction to the climate crisis. Within a minimal visual language of austerity and starkness, Lin brings her role as an environmental activist and her vision as an artist to this work.”

Lin is an American artist, internationally recognized for her large-scale environmental installations, memorials and architectural projects, in addition to studio work. A significant portion of Lin’s work has explored issues related to climate change, including an ongoing internet-based project raising awareness on habitat loss and biodiversity called “What is Missing?”

Lin’s work is featured in the permanent collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery of Art, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and others. She has also created permanent outdoor installations for various institutions throughout the world, including Storm King Art Center, Princeton University, Yale University (her alma mater), the Cleveland Public Library, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Federal Courthouse in Miami and more.

President Barack Obama awarded Lin the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016 and in 2009, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor in the country for artistic excellence.

“Ghost Forest” will be on view in Madison Square Park through December 13, 2020.

Leonardo Drew’s “City in the Grass” debuted in the park at the beginning of June and will be on view through December 15. An installation from artist Krzysztof Wodiczko, titled “Monument,” will be in the park from January 16 to May 10, 2020, before Lin’s piece debuts next summer.

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