Unleash your inner artist at Manhattan parks this summer

Poet MC Hyland offered a bookmaking workshop last week at Madison Square Park. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

This time of year, even if you don’t get to go on vacation there are still some good times to be had thanks to free summer programming at a number of local parks. This is nothing new of course but this year the event organizers with The Madison Square Park Conservancy have changed things up by making some of its activities interactive.

The programming kicked off recently with the installation of “Prismatic Park,” a sculptural staging area where dancers, poets and spoken word artists have been invited to perform on the lawn. Then last week MC Hyland, a visiting poet was in the park for a few days to hold an event in which park goers were encouraged to stroll around with someone else and then have each person write something to give to their companion. The writing exercise actually began more specifically with participants instructed to write a poem, but Hyland, upon noticing people’s faces freeze at the thought of poetry, then began telling them to write anything.

“I understand for many people poetry is a scary word,” said Hyland, who adapted the activity based on her own habit of leading walks and then writing a poem for participants.

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Naked men removed from Gramercy storefront

men-cart-statue

Workers remove a statue from 281 Park Avenue South. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Last summer, the installation of nine anatomically correct male statues into a storefront in Gramercy raised a few eyebrows, with neighborhood residents wondering if it was an art exhibit or a marketing gimmick. It didn’t help anyone’s confusion that there was a neon sign in the window indicating the space was for rent.

As it turns out, the answer is it was a bit of both. On Monday afternoon, workers emerged from the storefront at 281 Park Avenue South and 22nd Street, moving out the larger-than-life-size sculptures. Asked where they were going, a worker at the scene said the naked men were headed to storage, since the ground floor space had been leased to a restaurant. However, Dan Turkewitz, one of the brokers marketing the space, later said nothing was finalized, so he wasn’t sure why the statues were being evicted. “We’re talking to a lot of different people,” he said.

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Art festival will focus on race

An artist participating in the upcoming Art in Odd Places festival, Walis Johnson, will have a mobile installation along 14th Street detailing how people of color faced discrimination in Stuyvesant Town and other areas. (Pictured) Some of the artifacts that go along with stories she’s collected by doing interviews (Photo courtesy of Walis Johnson)

An artist participating in the upcoming Art in Odd Places festival, Walis Johnson, will have a mobile installation along 14th Street detailing how people of color faced discrimination in Stuyvesant Town and other areas. (Pictured) Some of the artifacts that go along with stories she’s collected by doing interviews (Photo courtesy of Walis Johnson)

By Sabina Mollot

There’s no question that race is the most widely covered topic this year in the news, whether the word’s in reference to the upcoming presidential election or race as in skin color, with recent protests stemming from the Black Lives Matter movement. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it’s the theme chosen for artists to run with in what is sure to be a politically charged Art in Odd Places festival.

The annual art show, which features both visual and performance art pieces along the length of 14th Street for a few days, is set to run this year from October 6-9.

This year there will be 34 artists, most of them with works that are performance based. The event was founded by teaching artist Ed Woodham, and this year there are four curators: Elissa Blount-Moorhead, Rylee Eterginoso, Tumelo Mosaka and Ikechukwu Onyewuenyi.

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Art in Odd Places takes over 14th St.

Among this festival’s partipants were (left) Lulu Lolo as Joan of Arc, and (right) Carolina Mayorga as Our Lady of 14th Street. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

Lulu Lolo as Joan of Arc (Photos by Sabina Mollot)


By Sabina Mollot

Art in Odd Places, a decade-old arts festival that’s taken place along the length of 14th Street since 2008, ran this year from October 7-11, featuring dozens of performances and installations with the theme of “Recall.”

Due to the theme, the pieces were either highlights from previous years that were revived or expanded upon or inspired by the past.

As always, during the days AiOP is scheduled, finding a participating artist vs. one of the neighborhood’s more colorful characters isn’t always obvious, and on certain days when there are fewer participants, locating one can feel a bit like a scavenger hunt.

However, on Sunday, around a dozen artists could be found during an afternoon walk from Eighth Avenue to Avenue C that was guided by the festival’s curators, Sara Reisman and Kendal Harry.

If you missed it, read on for a recap:

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Affordable Art Fair aims to take intimidation factor away from buying art

C-print on diasec by Sarah Bahbah, courtesy of Corridor-Mika Gallery in Tel Aviv

C-print on diasec by Sarah Bahbah, courtesy of Corridor-Mika Gallery in Tel Aviv

By Sabina Mollot

It was nearly two decades ago when William Ramsay, founder of the Affordable Art Fair, opened a warehouse in London that he stocked full of affordable works by 150 relatively unknown artists. The warehouse as gallery wound up being such a hit that he went on to expand on the concept, to form the Affordable Art Fair where works of art are priced between $100 and $10,000 (half of it costing under $5,000).

AAF has since grown from its original London home to operate in other cities and overseas, including in New York, where its next event is set to take place from September 10-13. The fair will be run out of the Metropolitan Pavilion at 125 West 18th Street in Chelsea, while AAF New York is headquartered out of the same West 22nd Street building in the Flatiron District as Town & Village.

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Glowing globes of tech debris lighting up Madison Square Park

One of the globes lit up in the park at dusk (Photo by Yasunori Matsui)

One of the globes lit up in the park at dusk (Photo by Yasunori Matsui)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Madison Square Park Conservancy will be debuting sparkling transparent glass globes filled with discarded bits of technology in its next public art installation, opening in the park today. The sculptures come from artist Paula Hayes in her first outdoor exhibition, which will be on view in the southwest gravel area through April 19.

“Gazing Globes” features 18 transparent spheres filled with various media debris, including old radio parts, discarded computer parts, glass vacuum tubes, micro glass beads and shredded rubber tires, all covered in shimmering dust from pulverized CDs.

The Conservancy said that the spheres, which are 16, 18 and 24 inches in diameter, will be on fiberglass pedestals ranging from 24 to 47 inches off the ground and the globes will be lit from within.

Hayes, an American visual artist based in New York who has also worked as a landscape designer, usually works with plants and has previously created terrariums. The installation in Madison Square Park looks like a collection of traditional terrariums on first glance but Hayes made a crucial switch with the project.

“The sculptures are being installed during the winter and they’re in a park surrounded by a city, so I thought of the park itself as the terrarium,” she said.

“It’s like I turned it inside out and I thought of these bubbles as the world outside the plants so it was kind of an inverse approach.”

She added that she was also mindful of the wintry conditions, so the lighting from the shining up from bottom of the globes is an attempt to brighten up the park during the dreary weather.

“The illumination was important,” she said. “This is very much a nighttime experience. In the darkness of winter, it becomes very enchanted. So instead of only the sun, the light is shining up from below.”

Hayes was pleased that she was able to work in Madison Square Park for her first foray into public art.

“It’s one of the premiere and beautiful parks in the city and it has a very Victorian feeling. It’s laid out extremely beautifully,” she said. “I really appreciate the amount of liveliness it has and the programming they do. It’s one of the great hearts of the city. It’s a great, lively place to engage with the public.”

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Former bodega thrives as multi-use space

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Art by Hayley Welsh at Specials on C (Photo by Peter Knocke)

Art by Hayley Welsh at Specials on C (Photo by Peter Knocke)

Since it opened about a year ago, bodega-turned-art-space Specials on C has played host to graffiti art shows, secret concerts, educational workshops, painting exhibitions and a pop-up holiday shop. And co-founders Jim Chu and Peter Knocke don’t want to limit it to just that handful of uses; they want the space to be open to whatever anyone else wants to use it for.

“We work with artists, entrepreneurs and creators to help them get around the prohibitive challenges of putting out their work,” Chu said.

Knocke also made a point to say that he and Chu don’t consider themselves the curators of the space.

“We try not to curate anything,” he said. “We want the community to curate it.”

The building, which is located at East 12th Street and Avenue C, is a city-owned property, which makes the rent more affordable than most retail spaces in the area. Knocke and Chu worked this aspect of the building into Specials, and the space gets rented out per event at $300 a day with a minimum of three days.

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Edward Snowden statue booted from park

A statue of NSA leaker Edward Snowden gets wheeled into Union Square Park. Not long afterwards, the sculptor, Jim Dessicino, was told he had to remove it. (Photo by Brian Wagner)

A statue of NSA leaker Edward Snowden gets wheeled into Union Square Park. Not long afterwards, the sculptor, Jim Dessicino, was told he had to remove it. (Photo by Brian Wagner)

By Sabina Mollot

On Friday afternoon, NSA leaker Edward Snowden made an appearance at Union Square Park. Although greeted with enthusiasm by some, he was nonetheless thrown out of the public space that has been home to countless political protests, by a government official.

Of course, it wasn’t the real Snowden, but a larger-than-life-size statue, which had been on display as part of the annual Art in Odd Places festival on 14th Street.

And as for the reason for its removal, it wasn’t anything political, according to the Parks Department, but the statue’s creator, Jim Dessicino, had apparently needed a permit to have the statue in the park, and he didn’t have one. The statue was scheduled to have been on display at the park from 9 to 5 p.m. but at around 1:45 p.m. the Parks Enforcement Patrol officer told Dessicino that Snowden had to go.

“It’s a funny way our parks are run; even our public spaces aren’t really public,” Dessicino later said. However, he also noted, in an interview with Town & Village, that the officer who told him to leave was very polite, allowing him ample time to cart the statue away to his nearby car. “He said, ‘Listen man, I love your sculpture, but you just can’t have it here. My boss will have my head,’” Dessicino said he was told.

A Parks Department spokesperson, Philip Abramson, later told T&V what Dessicino had been told, which is that the reason for the removal was the lack of a “special event permit.” “No permit was issued though so we asked for it to be removed,” Abramson said.

Edward Snowden statue at Union Square Park (Photo by Brian Wagner)

Edward Snowden statue at Union Square Park (Photo by Brian Wagner)

But prior to the statue leaving the park, it got plenty of attention from the press and passersby, especially international tourists. Those stopping to look and ask questions included a Swedish woman, a group from France, a group from Israel and a man from Tunisia. They also seemed to like the spot Dessicino picked to display the statue, he said, which was a few yards away from the Lincoln monument outside the playground.

The attention it was getting is why Dessicino believes he was singled out while other festival participants in the park got to stay.

At the time he was shutting down his installation, this reporter was in fact speaking to two other artists in the park, both of whom weren’t being confronted by police or Parks Enforcement.

However, one of the artists, Ienke Kastelein, had previously gotten kicked out of another space, the sidewalk in front of Stuyvesant Town. Kastelein’s installation was a bunch of traveling chairs that she was inviting people to sit on and, if they chose to, engage her in conversation.

“A lot of people were getting booted from their spots,” Dessicino said.

And apparently, that is nothing new. Ed Woodham, a teaching artist who’s the founder of Art in Odd Places, told Town & Village that the festival doesn’t apply for permits so artists getting shooed away from the park has happened many times before and artists are also often made to leave the sidewalks in front of various properties. Normally, the festival works around this by letting artists know which areas are typically problematic.

“This year it slipped through the cracks,” Woodham admitted.

Earlier, he’d spoken with Kastelein, who’s from the Netherlands, and who became concerned after being told by Stuyvesant Town’s Public Safety officers that she’d need to take her project elsewhere. At the time, some of the residents were sitting in the chairs.

“She was on the sidewalk in front of Stuyvesant Town and they told her to leave,” said Woodham. “They’re pretty protective.”

A spokesperson for CWCapital didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Ienke Kastelein in front of her installation, “Walking with Chairs” at Union Square Park, was previously told to move on from a sidewalk in front of Stuyvesant Town. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Ienke Kastelein, in front of her installation, “Walking with Chairs” at Union Square Park, was previously told to move on from a sidewalk in front of Stuyvesant Town. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

But, while Union Square Park has also been typically a place where artists are shooed away, Woodham said one artist had fought successfully for the right to display his piece, “Tourist in Chief” there. This was in 2011, and AiOP participant Leon Reid IV had initially been turned down by the Parks Department in his request to put a Yankees cap, camera and shopping bags on the Washington monument. So, “he got a lawyer and forced the issue,” Woodham said.

This year, he noted how one of the artists behind a project called “Complimentary,” Leah Harper, was also initially given the “private property” argument by a building’s management employees. The installation was a candy dispenser that gave out compliments on paper instead of candy. The employees had argued that the machine was attached to a beam that was part of the building. However, after speaking with a curator, they eventually changed their minds and let “Complimentary” stay.

“They said, ‘We’ve been looking to have art around here, anyway’,” said Woodham, who added that the owner even expressed interest in getting more art in the future.

Things also ended up working out for another artist, Kevin Townsend, who was told he couldn’t draw in chalk on the sidewalk. He ended up drawing in chalk on the windows of the 14th Street Y, after the Y gave him permission to do so, and the drawings remained on view throughout the weekend. Woodham added that the frequent resistance to the installations can sometimes work in artists’ favor. He called Snowden’s ouster from the park “wonderful” for the festival and the artist due to an article it got in the Daily News and other publications, including this one.

Additionally, by the next day, Snowden was back in action, appearing on 14th Street at 9th Avenue. After the festival ended, the statue left the city, with its next destination the Delaware Center for Contemporary Art. As for why Dessicino chose the National Security Agency whistleblower as his subject, the artist told T&V he had a few reasons.

“This person was important and I think will continue to be important,” said Dessicino. “Monuments are normally commissioned by governments, but (his) self-sacrificial action is not going to be recognized, and that’s why I stepped in.”

He added that he and Snowden are just a year apart in age. “I thought that he’s become representative of what millennials could do,” said Dessicino. “We often get termed as being self-serving and self-involved.”

As for Kastelein’s installation, during an interview, she said she’d gotten the idea for the traveling sit-down experiment from a residency she’d done at a psychiatric hospital. Patients there, she said, tended to be “disconnected” from their environment.

“In Dutch when you ask someone, ‘Where are you?’ you’re saying, ‘Where do you sit?’ They would say, ‘I’d rather be elsewhere,’ ‘so it’s ‘I’d rather sit elsewhere.’”

“Walking with Chairs,” she added, had been responded to positively by the public. Certain areas, like Union Square and Stuyvesant Town, were the most successful spots along 14th Street, in terms of getting people to actually sit down. “This is one place where people don’t hesitate to sit down,” she said of Union Square.

Meanwhile, in Stuyvesant Town, participants were interested in making conversation. “I connected to several people and had a very nice conversation about not communicating with neighbors, so this was a perfect way to communicate.”

Art in Odd Places arrives on 14th St.

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By Sabina Mollot

On Friday, the eighth annual Art in Odd Places (AiOP) festival kicked off on East 14th Street, with about a dozen artists and performers taking over the entrance and sidewalk in front of Campos Plaza.

The festival is scheduled to run through October 15 and features a total of 112 visual and performance art projects taking place between Avenue C and the Hudson River. Its creator is teaching artist Ed Woodham, who this year chose the theme “Model” for the festival, with 14th Street taking on the role of the world’s longest runway.

At the opening event, much to the delight, amusement, indifference — or in a few cases horror — of passerby, the festival’s costumed participants danced, played music, created portraits, or, depending on the act, either interacted with event goers or completely ignored them.

Two-man act Brian and Ryan (last names Black and Bulis respectively) were the latter sort, as they were far too busy communicating with one another on their plastic cup phones and towering helmets.

Interfaith minister Rev. Lainie Love Dalby, who was also wearing a hat taller than she was, was the former type of performer as she offered blessings to passersby.

Dalby, who’s also known as the “Lady Gaga of Consciousness and Spirituality,” explained, “I mix the sacred and pop culture in my work.”

The blessings included a bit more touching than one might expect on the street from a smiling stranger, as well as a splash of rose and jasmine scented essential oils, but interestingly no one seemed put off by the intimate ritual.

In fact, Stuyvesant Town resident Irmgard Taylor, who attended AiOP after reading about the event in T&V, seemed delighted at having received a blessing on the street.

“This is wild,” she said. “A lady gave me a blessing and then she sang, looking at me.”

Taylor added that even though she lives across the street, she’d never stepped foot in Campos Plaza before.

“I can’t believe I’ve never been in this place,” she said. “This is such a neighborhood thing.”

A Peter Cooper Village resident, Council Member Dan Garodnick, also stopped by for a while after picking up his son Asher from daycare.

The father and son seemed especially interested in watching a group of dancers, who normally do their “B-boy” style routines on the subway, performing on the sidewalk.

“We just stumbled upon this,” Garodnick said, “but this is really one of those quirky New York events that makes the city great.”

Interestingly, the dancers’ group, called Acidic Soul, wasn’t even supposed to be part of the event. The scheduled artists were actually two Kansas City men who designed the robes worn by the performers, and they were originally planning to wear the robes themselves. However, when the duo spotted Acidic Soul’s members dancing at Grand Central station on Thursday, they asked them to join forces.

“They look much better than we do,” said Dylan Mortimer, one of the artists on the project called “Safety Robes.”

The garments were actually choir robes made from the orange material used in vests worn by safety workers, and depending on how they’re worn and where, could make the wearer look like he’s either directing traffic or giving a blessing.

Another one of the artists making her way around Campos Plaza was Lulu Lolo, whose art project was “The Gentleman of 14th Street.” Clad in a tux and top hat and even sporting an upturned mustache, Lolo said she was inspired by the defunct tradition of tipping one’s hat. Having had interacted with a number of people that way since the event began, the performer (an AiOP old hat herself) said people seemed to appreciate the old-fashioned gesture.

“People have been taken by surprise,” she said. “Everyone’s so into their technology, but people want to be acknowledged.”

Along with Lolo, other performers milling around included Jerome Porsperger, who was conducting a symphony that only those who donned a pair of headphones could hear, a dancer under a tent-like blanket moving to live music and a masked woman painted green who was letting a few giggling girls write on her body.

While strolling through the odd art in her normal place, DeReese Huff, president of the Campos Plaza Tenants Association, remarked, “It’s a great thing they’re doing here.

“It’s a little weird,” she added, “but it’s great. As you can see the tenants are loving it.”

For more information about Art in Odd Places, visit artinoddplaces.org or for real-time schedule information, see the event’s Twitter feed @artinoddplaces.