New York is a summer festival. Even for those not old enough to remember the jingle and the ad campaign that went along with it, there’s plenty of proof out there. Where else can you experience butterflies and mockingbirds, melting popsicles and thought-provoking works of art sprouting up among seasonal plantings?
High Line Art, a program which commissions and produces public art projects on and around the High Line, has recently installed “Panorama,” a group exhibition of international artists, all museum-level, all for free.
It’s fitting that the park that’s given New York countless new perspectives on the urban landscape should be presenting an art exhibition all about perspectives. “Panorama” presents a group of sometimes colorful, sometimes subtle, sometimes playful, always interesting works of art. Eleven artists from around the world offer pieces that respond to the unique environment — urban and natural, bustling yet bucolic — that’s found on the High Line.
Surprising and unexpected works are seamlessly woven into the paths and walkways of the park — some so seamlessly that they go unnoticed by many visitors, but that’s fine. Walking among the plants and lawns, looking out over the rooftops of the city, a sense of perspective colors the experience. Within the same vista, one may encounter a flowering shrub, a nesting bird, a large metal sculpture and the Empire State Building. It’s hard not to think about scale and size, the natural and the man-made.
Several of the works serve to frame these kinds of thoughts — literally.
The Belgian artist Kris Martin’s sculpture “Altar” is a reproduction of the frame of Hubert and Jan Van Eyck’s 1432 “Ghent Altarpiece,” one of the great masterpieces of European art, now known mostly to art history majors. The shape of the frame is clear, and so is the view right through it. Seen either from the street below or from the High Line paths, it reframes the view of the city. Replacing religious imagery with a contemporary view of the world doesn’t have to offer an experience less contemplative or spiritually moving. The work also speaks to the passage of time and forgetfulness; one may recognize the shape, but how many will be able to recall this once iconic painting?
Another work that deals with memory is Ryan Gander’s bronze cast of his wallet and phone, left as if forgotten on one of the park’s benches. It engenders thoughts about what’s left behind — what we leave as individuals, as a culture, as stewards of our landscape. It also provided fun for kids who joked around, trying to pick up the lost items. His sculpture/fountain carved in the likeness of his wife drew lots of attention, admirers and interaction, as well.
Perspectives are also addressed in Gabriel Sierra’s measuring tools placed next to growing plants, Katrín Sigurðardóttir’s rendering of an upside-down model of a volcano that dangles from under Gansevoort Street near the Whitney, and Andro Wekua’s large leaning window sculpture with opaque panes. Damián Ortega’s graffiti tags rendered in bent rebar and situated against blank walls or open sky draw upon something familiar, but place them somewhere unexpected, as do Mariana Castillo Deball’s ceramics that speak to archeological finds in Mexico. All these works challenge the normal ways of encountering, reacting to and comprehending our surroundings. Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset collaborated on a sculpture on 10th Avenue Square that’s all about seeing. It’s a representation of a telescope, cast in bronze, fixedly pointing towards the Statue of Liberty that both targets and obscures the view of the landmark.
“Little Manhattan,” by the Japanese artist Yutaka Sone, is a 9-foot long miniature of Manhattan, carved in white marble. It’s incredibly detailed, capturing, the exhibition’s organizers state, “every bridge, pier and building found in Manhattan at the time of [its] making.” Works of art that take countless hours and relentless dedication achieve their own gravitas, but this one also happens to be elegant and beautiful.
Olafur Eliasson, a Dane, has surprised and involved the city in his art before, most notably with his waterfalls installed beneath the Brooklyn Bridge and three other New York locations in 2008. Here he presents something even more participatory. An immense Lego architectural landscape (immense by Lego standards) offers a different perspective on cities. This one, like the real ones, changes over time. “The collectivity project,” consisting of over two tons of Lego pieces, is an evolving work. Visitors are invited to play with it, change its shape and structure, and ponder the dissolution of the original form and what that says about the works of man and time. It’s on view through September 30th.
All the other works will remain through March 2016, as changes of season will change perspectives again. Seeing “Panorama” through falling leaves, snow and ice and a returning spring will inevitably evoke more thoughts about time, change, perspectives, the nature of beauty and the beauty of nature.