‘Chairs that inspire’

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On the UES, sidewalk installations by SVA students highlight a partnership with the Madison Avenue BID


  • Matt Iacovelli created his “Corner Newsstand” because of his love for pop culture. Photo courtesy of Madison Avenue BID

  • Gabriela Ong’s “Broadway Stage” encapsulates the inspiration she receives from live theater. Photo courtesy of Madison Avenue BID  

  • Julian Fama capitalized on his love of creating characters in his piece “Imaginary Creatures.” Photo courtesy of Madison Avenue BID

  • Mert Avadya’s “The Art of Junk” displays his non-targeted inspiration. Photo courtesy of Madison Avenue BID

  • Filipa Mota’s upbringing in Portugal influenced her decision to recreate the iconic windows in her piece. Photo courtesy of Madison Avenue BID

Storefront window displays are not the only glass-enclosed structures turning heads on Madison Avenue this spring.

In partnership with the School of Visual Arts (SVA), Madison Avenue’s Business Improvement District (BID) unveiled a public art installation on April 28 consisting of 16 original chairs that represent each artist’s inspiration to create. These “Chairs that Inspire” can be found in eight-foot tall, lucite-enclosed displays scattered along the sidewalks on Madison Avenue between East 57 and East 86 Streets until May 18.

“People just kind of embrace chairs,” explained Kevin O’Callaghan, the chair of the 3D design department at SVA who mentored the student artists through the creation process. Though each piece is loosely centered on a chair figure, each student put his or her own twist on the structure to make a visual statement about inspiration. “If you get it right away, then it’s really kind of a wonderful little journey,” O’Callaghan said.

This series is the fourth art installation to come from the partnership between SVA and the Madison Avenue BID. The union was formed in the fall of 2016 when the two entities teamed up to create a series of 3D dresses in the “Language of Fashion” display during New York Fashion Week. Since then, SVA has regularly contributed talent and art to Madison Avenue.

“It is an unusual and unique partnership,” remarked the BID’s president Matthew Bauer. “I would say it feels very New York.”

This time, the installation is running during one of New York’s busiest weeks for art. A series of art fairs and auctions will be attracting close to 70,000 people during the second week of May, many of whom will likely descend on Madison Avenue, noted Amy Rosi, who runs public relations for the Madison Avenue BID. “It’s very cool timing to be up,” she said.

O’Callaghan gave his students about four weeks to produce their pieces. Most students did it in two.

“When he gave the assignment to us, I didn’t have a very particular inspiration,” said Mert Avadya, whose chair is entitled “The Art of Junk.” Avadya’s piece portrays hairdryers, scissors, and other remnants of “junk” in a puzzle-like arrangement that perfectly fits the form of a chair.

For other students, the inspiration was more obvious. Filipa Mota’s piece “The Windows of Portugal” was inspired by her upbringing there. “I feel like I’m still very much inspired by my culture in everything I do,” she said. “And I do truly believe it shifts my way of thinking.”

Another student, Gabriela Ong, drew from her love of Broadway to construct a stage out of an old theater chair. Student Matt Iacovelli chose to portray his connection to pop culture by constructing an old-fashioned newsstand chair, complete with actual candy and magazines.

“Every single piece of history or pop culture that has ever taken place has at one point been on a newsstand,” Iacovelli pointed out.

For many of the student artists, being featured on Madison Avenue is a dream come true. For close to a month, the students’ work will be on display on one of the busiest avenues in New York.

“I mean, talk about exposure,” remarked O’Callaghan. “What more could you be given as a starting point for a student’s career?”

“It’s insane,” agreed Ong. “I’m from Jakarta, Indonesia so I never thought I’d ever be on the streets of Madison Avenue and have a piece that screams me.”

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