Wednesday, January 16, 2008

NYC Waterfalls ... coming this summer

I recently attended a press conference for Olafur Eliasson's New York City Waterfalls, which will be realized from mid-July through mid-October 2008 in four East River/Upper New York Bay locations: the Brooklyn Bridge anchorage, Governors Island, the Red Hook piers, the riverfront just north of the Manhattan Bridge. Presented by the Public Art Fund, these monumental, 90 to 120-foot tall free-standing installations of cascading water, created from scaffolding and pumps, will be Eliasson's first major public project in the city. They promise to continue his alchemical reference to natural elements and his abiding interest in the environment as both raw material and metaphor. Moreover, they will coincide with exhibitions of his work at MoMA and PS 1.



He is already well known for other large scale efforts involving the use of light, wind, water and fog, including The Weather Project in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern in London during the winter of 2003-4. Two million visitors came to see the piece, which incorporated an enormous sun constructed of 200 yellow sodium lamps. Eliasson has also colored several rivers green with a safe, non-toxic dye: in Berlin, Stockholm, Bremen and Los Angeles.


I arrived well in time for the 11 am announcement at the South Street Seaport, with speakers ranging from Mayor Michael Bloomberg to Olafur himself to folks from the Public Art Fund and Tishman Construction. The event was decidedly NOT for the art press (that event will probably occur much closer to the project's denouement). Rather for the hard news/city desk scribes, who were waiting around for an hour and drank up all the coffee and OJ before I arrived.



In any case, the Waterfalls will be "carbon neutral" and should prove a big summer tourist draw, as well as evincing that patented Eliasson penchant for water, climate and infrastructure. References were made to it being the biggest NYC public art project since The Gates. The website just went up, and I attach a digital image of how the bridge falls might eventually appear.



Considering the concerns of Eliasson's previous work, it might be hard to imagine him proposing anything not ecologically sustainable. Still, the term "carbon neutral" was voiced so often during the press conference that it was hard not to hear it as a selling point. Which led several of my colleagues from another blog, Artworld Salon, to voice a critique of the seemingly compulsory political correctness employed in the marketing of public art. To which I replied:



"I think that public art operates under different constraints from art that is created in private and sold privately. It needs (or its corporate/government sponsors think they need) to measure up against a demanding yardstick of public accountability. Therefore the insistence by Mayor Mike that Christo & Jeanne-Claude financed The Gates completely on their own dime -- that it would cost the taxpayers NOTHING. Similarly, the ecological bill of this project must be shown to be zero. No harm done to the environment. No demands on the power grid during peak summer AC months. No fish sucked into the vents.


The art might be there for the public good, but it requires public acceptance. And the public does not generally trust art or accept it in the same manner that we insiders do. For them, art is a luxury, a plaything for the rich, possibly effete. It's OK if it can be enjoyed by the public, just so long as there is no bill to be paid by the same public. It has to come as a total gift."

More undoubtedly to come on this issue...

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