Nature-inspired sculptures now on display at Madison Square Park

This sculpture of a woman is now on display as part of Arlene Shechet’s installation, “Full Steam Ahead.” (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The Madison Square Park Conservancy has debuted a series of nature-inspired sculptures as the latest public art installation to go up at the park. The work opened to the public on Tuesday to torrential downpours throughout the morning and afternoon but the rain lightened to a drizzle in time for the installation’s opening reception that evening.

Sculptor Arlene Shechet created 11 different pieces that make up “Full Steam Ahead,” designed as an outdoor room intended to be interactive. Shechet is primarily known for her work in ceramic but the pieces in this exhibition are made from cast iron, wood, steel and porcelain.

Shechet refers to the exhibition as a “manufactured version of nature” and the installation is functional as well as a work of art, with a number of the pieces functioning as seating. Shechet said that the installation was initially inspired by memories of the living room in her grandparents’ apartment.

The pieces, located along the pathways and perimeter of the park’s reflecting pool, are human-scale sculptures that create a physical presence for visitors, and Shechet used forms suggestive of the nature around the park, such as twigs, tree trunks and other plants. Other sculptures around the pool are reminiscent of various fauna, some of which could be found at the park, such as a feather from a bird, although another, part of a lion’s head and paw, is less common in the middle of Manhattan.

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City breaks ground on new entrance at Madison Square Park monument

A groundbreaking ceremony for the new park entrance was held last Thursday at the Eternal Light monument. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The Madison Square Park Conservancy officially broke ground at the Eternal Light Memorial Flagstaff on the renovation project to create an entrance by the monument last Thursday. The project, the budget for which is $2 million, is expected to be completed in time for the centenary of Armistice Day, marking the end of World War I, on November 11.

The renovations are part of Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver’s “Parks Without Borders” initiative intended to open up park edges and create inviting entrances into city parks. The plan is also part of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero program and the Department of Transportation’s ongoing effort to enhance safety around parks and public plazas. The adjustments at the monument are meant to enhance pedestrian circulation and safety at the intersection of Broadway and Fifth Avenue by directly aligning the new entrance with the 24th Street crosswalk. The project will also give the memorial increased prominence in the park in honor of the veteran community.

The renovations will include demolishing the pavers and fencing around the memorial’s base and constructing a new plaza, as well as installing new gardens, fencing and benches around the plaza. The pavers and electrical infrastructure around the southern end of the park will be replaced and upgraded as part of the renovations.

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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.”

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Historic tree removed from park after being deemed hazardous

“Old Stumpy” at Madison Square Park, which has actually been around longer than the park has, was considered by arborists to be a falling hazard. (Photo courtesy of the Madison Square Park Conservancy)

By Sabina Mollot

A nearly 300-year-old tree at Madison Square Park that had been popular with visitors has finally faced the chopping block.

It had technically already been dead for years but was kept carefully preserved until recently being deemed a falling hazard.

“We loved that tree but because of pedestrian safety we had to bring it down,” Eric Cova, a spokesperson for the Madison Square Park Conservancy, told Town & Village. “The arborists told us the tree was hollow and had become a danger.”

The English elm had been known as “Old Stumpy” since it was really just the remnants of a tree, a trunk with a few limb stubs remaining.

The relic’s heart-wrenching removal occurred on Valentine’s Day after the conservancy got the nod from the Parks Department.

Cova said some planters will be put in the tree’s place in about 4-6 weeks. In the meantime, the now smoothed-over, empty spot is surrounded by a barrier.

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Animated light sculpture debuts in Madison Square Park

“Whiteout,” now on view at Madison Square Park (Photo courtesy of the Madison Square Park Conservancy)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The Madison Square Park Conservancy debuted the newest installation earlier this month, featuring a light project from artist Erwin Redl. The conservancy commissioned Redl to create “Whiteout,” which is displayed on the park’s central lawn and is a large-scale kinetic light sculpture made of white spheres suspended from a grid with steel poles and cabling. The orbs, hanging about a foot from the ground, sway in the wind and the LEDs are animated in large-scale patterns.

Redl is known for creating other large-scale light projects on the facades of buildings and he was first inspired by yarn drawings from minimalist conceptual artist Fred Sandback in 1997.

Redl said that he was fascinated by the option to have such a large installation in the park that is also within an urban environment.

“The physicality of the swaying orbs in conjunction with the abstract animations of their embedded white lights allows the public to explore a new, hybrid reality in this urban setting,” he said.

Madison Square Park Conservancy executive director Keats Meyer said that the installation is especially enjoyable during the dark winter months because it can show how light impacts space.

“Park goers will be able to view the industrial elegance of Whiteout from our pathways as they traverse the site,” she said. “Redl’s project, based on how light can impact a space, will be a beauteous interpretation of the Oval Lawn during the shortest days of the calendar year.”

Art consultancy firm UAP worked with Redl and the conservancy to fabricate the installation. The company, which has offices in Brisbane and Shanghai as well as New York, has also worked with artist Ai Wei Wei on the recent project in Washington Square Park, “Arch: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors.”

The Madison Square Park Conservancy launched public art programming through Mad. Sq. Art in 2004 and Redl’s installation is the 35th outdoor exhibition that the conservancy has organized. “Whiteout” will be on display through March 25, 2018.

Street in Flatiron redesigned for safety

The newly-paved Broadway looking north (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

A block on Broadway between West 24th and 25th Streets adjacent to Madison Square Park has been redesigned, with the aim of making the area safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

The Department of Transportation piloted a similar “Shared Streets” model in Lower Manhattan for a single Saturday last August and decided to implement the model in the Flatiron District permanently. The city made this one permanent because pedestrians outnumber vehicles on this particular block of Broadway by an 18:1 margin during peak evening hours.

The DOT has been working with the Flatiron BID and the Madison Square Park Conservancy on clarifying the often-chaotic intersection of Broadway and Fifth Avenue and made the adjustments by instituting a new five-mile-per-hour speed limit, changing the color of the asphalt and adding crosswalks and protected bike lanes.

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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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Artists will interact with installation at Madison Sq. Park

A sculpture by Josiah McElheny will become a performance space. (Photo courtesy of Madison Square Park Conservancy)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

With the arrival of Madison Square Park’s new summer installation next Tuesday comes a handful of artists who have created performance pieces to interact with the work in week-long residencies. Prismatic Park, a sculpture by artist Josiah McElheny made of glass tile and wood creating individual performance spaces for the artists, offers a translucent sound wall for experimental music, a reflective floor for dance and a vaulted pavilion for poetry.

Artist MC Hyland, who will be doing the first poetry residency for the project from July 4 to 9, won’t be using the space for typical poetry readings but decided to expand on a project she’s already been working on that is more interactive than straight performance. Hyland has a degree in book arts in addition to an MFA in poetry, and when she went back to school for English literature recently, she started reading more poetry by William Wordsworth, who wrote some of his work about walking and talking with friends.

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Interactive installation coming to Madison Sq. Park

A rough rendering of the installation to come, which is being designed with artist participation in mind

A rough rendering of the installation to come, which is being designed with artist participation in mind

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Madison Square Park is getting a new interactive space with the installation of the park conservancy’s next outdoor exhibition this coming spring. Artist Josiah McElheny designed the “Prismatic Park,” which is composed of painted wood and prismatic glass, and is designed with the idea of being an outdoor studio space for musicians, dancers and poets.

A blue curvilinear sound wall offers acoustics for experimental music, a circular and reflective green floor will beckon dancers while and a red roofed pavilion will be built for the use of poets.

Nonprofit art organizations Blank Forms, Danspace Project and Poets House are collaborating with the Madison Square Park Conservancy to help resident artists create new work within the public spaces. McElheny designed the piece specifically so that it would be interacted with and not just looked at, and he said that he hopes it will be used not only for performances but also as a rehearsal or impromptu workshop space.

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Flatiron plazas to be redeveloped

The city is seeking community input on the redesign at an upcoming workshop. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

The city is seeking community input on the redesign at an upcoming workshop. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The Flatiron pedestrian plazas and Worth Square (just north of the plazas) will be redeveloped, The Flatiron Partnership and New York City Department of Transportation have announced, and the city will be seeking input from the community at a public workshop on November 10.

Flatiron Partnership Executive Director Jennifer Brown said that development of the plazas has been theoretical for a while, but earlier this year there was enough funding through the city to officially start the design process and consider options for more permanent fixtures for the spaces.

Brown said that the plazas, which stretch along Broadway from East 21st to 23rd Street and north of 23rd Street between Broadway and Fifth Avenue adjacent to Madison Square Park, have been the way they are since 2008 using temporary materials like the epoxy gravel surface that is starting to wear out and the temporary granite blocks that protect the spaces from street traffic. The workshop, which will be held in the Porcelanosa building at 202 Fifth Avenue from 6 to 8:30 p.m., is geared towards getting input from the public about different design elements.

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Roller coaster-like sculpture headed to Madison Sq. Park

Rendering of “Big Bling,”  which will stand 40 feet high (Photo courtesy of Madison Square Park Conservancy)

Rendering of “Big Bling,” which will stand 40 feet high (Photo courtesy of Madison Square Park Conservancy)

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.

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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.

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Madison Square Park debuts its largest sculpture installation yet

Fata Morgana began construction in March and will be completed in May. (Pictured) The canopy installation as seen this week (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Fata Morgana began construction in March and will be completed in May. (Pictured) The canopy installation as seen this week (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Mad. Sq. Art will debut a new installation in Madison Square Park officially opening in June that is planned to remain in the park throughout the rest of the year.

Fata Morgana, by New York-based artist Teresita Fernández, will be the largest outdoor sculpture from the Madison Square Park Conservancy and will consist of 500 feet of mirror-polished discs that create canopies over the pathways along the central lawn. The exhibit will run through January 10, 2016, which Mad. Sq. Art curator Brooke Rapaport said is to allow park visitors to interact with the piece throughout all four seasons.

“The idea is that it will change and transform visually so it’s always a different experience,” she said.

The project has been partially installed with some sections currently open, but the entire installation is expected to be finished by the end of May. The opening reception is planned for June 1.

The metal sculptures will hover over the walkways and are perforated with intricate patterns that resemble foliage and will create a glowing, flickering affect as the sunlight filters through the canopy. The Conservancy said that the installation is the first project from Mad. Sq. Art to fully make use of the upper register of a visitor’s space.

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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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Mad. Sq. 200, a fair to remember

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Despite a brief downpour at the beginning of the history-themed fair, Mad. Sq. 200 in Madison Square Park went off as planned last Saturday in an afternoon celebrating the 200th anniversary of the park’s naming.

The event was scheduled for 3 p.m. and rain hit around 3:10, forcing attendees and participating vendors under the tents until the rain cleared a few minutes later.

“When you have to worry about as many antiques as I do, you always come prepared,” said Denny Daniel, curator and founder of the Museum of Interesting Things. Since rain was in the forecast, Daniel packed some plastic tarps along with the old telephones, phonographs, cameras and wind-up toys he had on display, showcasing some of the entertainment and technology that was popular at the turn of the last two centuries.

The rain did provide some relief from the 90-degree weather last weekend, a rare occurrence this summer, and the skies stayed clear for the rest of the festivities, which included a performance by the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers and a short dance lesson for attendees, as well as law games for kids and adults, croquet games and treats from Brooklyn Farmacy and The Cannibal Beer & Butcher.

A popular stop was where Daniel was showing his collection of antique gadgets and gizmos.

Daniel has been collecting antique items for the last five years and his “museum” includes photographs, toys, early medical inventions, antique literature and old scientific tools. One of the interactive pieces that he brought to the park was a mutoscope, an early motion picture device that works on the same principle as a flipbook, with pictures printed on cards, spun on a Rolodex and seen through a viewfinder. This particular one showed Charlie Chaplin and Felix the Cat, and operated through quarters placed in the slot.

Ashley Hughes, director of programs at the Madison Square Park Conservancy, said that planning for Mad Sq. 200 has been going on since May. However, the event has been in the works longer than that, with ideas being thrown around since January. The next big event at the park will be Mad Sq. Music: The Studio Series of free concerts, beginning on September 13. See T&V’s Around & About listings for details.

Click through to see photos from the event.

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