By: Tal Peer
A new exhibition at The Museum of the City of New York Art in the Open: Fifty Years of Public Art in New York, an exhibition chronicling, celebrating, and examining the last half century of art and innovation that has made the city the most vibrant environment for public creativity in the world. Opening 50 years after revolutionary public art initiatives were first staged in the city’s parks and plazas, and presented to mark the 40th anniversary of the pioneering Public Art Fund, Art in the Open takes visitors through five decades of city history and on a whirlwind tour of the five boroughs, all with public art as a guide.
All around New York—in parks, plazas, and subways, in empty lots and abandoned buildings, on the water, and even in the air—artists turn public spaces into settings for their creations. Not only do thousands of works, both temporary and permanent, animate the sites where they are located, but they also transform the public’s understanding of the city itself. Underlying all of this is a remarkable array of public and private programs that provide the infrastructure for some of the most ambitious urban art programmings in the world.
Art in the Open sheds light on these often-overlooked roots of public art in the city. The exhibition explores the social and historical reasons that New York City has proved to be such fertile ground for outdoor art, and highlights the ways in which the story of the city’s shared artworks have reflected the dynamic of the city itself. Several critical threads connect the countless public art initiatives New York has hosted in the last fifty years: cycles of urban decay and renewal; evolving understandings of how the city’s built environment can and should interact with its art and artists; and differing notions of community engagement and public dialogue. Art in the Open presents public art not as ornamentation, but as a fundamental lens through which to interpret New York City.
The modern public art movement in New York had its origins in a bold idea: bring contemporary art out of galleries and museums and into public space. Although New York had long had a history of civic art in the form of murals and statues (including the iconic Statue of Liberty), the 1960s ushered in a new era. In a time marked by growing urban crisis, New York City activists and officials chose a path of revitalization through creativity inspired by the nationwide Kennedy Era–commitment to promoting art and culture as a symbol of American world leadership. Their daring model for public art incorporated both the voice of individual artists and dynamic trends in contemporary art making. This modern approach kicked off in New York in 1967, when landmark exhibitions placed abstract artworks in such high-profile locations as Bryant Park, Astor Place, and the Seagram Building.
These efforts took on new meaning in the context of the unfolding urban crisis in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as Mayor John V. Lindsay considered a range of strategies to keep the city relevant, dynamic, and attractive. Numerous programs, embracing a vision to locate cutting-edge artworks in unconventional sites, and supported by both government agencies and generous philanthropies, took on the challenge. Private organizations such as Creative Time (1973) and Public Art Fund (1977), the publically funded Percent for Art (1982), MTA’s Arts for Transit (1985), an ongoing program for temporary park installations, and many other entities continue to cultivate a rich landscape of outdoor art that is a model for cities the world over.
By the beginning of the 21st century, innovative public art projects reflected the city’s resurgence and the revitalization of its parks and public spaces. Today, New Yorkers not only expect public art as a feature of urban life, they anticipate and champion new projects that enrich, delight, challenge, and occasionally outrage audiences across the five boroughs.
Art in the Open connects the past, present, and future of public art in New York City. This wide-ranging exhibition features over 125 objects on display highlighting artists and works of art as diverse as the city itself, including pieces by Kara Walker, Keith Haring, Roy Lichtenstein, and Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Art in the Open corrals the beauty, controversy, and creativity of 50 years of public art from every corner of the five boroughs and presents them together for visitors to experience, enjoy, and debate. In bringing outdoor art back within the walls of a museum, the show highlights the necessity and the ingenuity of the once novel idea to release artists and their creations from such constraints.
Art in the Open: Fifty Years of Public Art in New York is made possible with lead support by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation, Charina Endowment Fund/Ronay and Richard L. Menschel, and the Leonard & Judy Lauder Fund; with additional support from Agnes Gund, Con Edison, The Kraus Family Foundation, Silverweed Foundation, David Dechman and Michel Mercure, Eve Klein and Robert Owens, Tishman Speyer, The Joelson Foundation, the Honorable Daniel R. Garodnick, New York City Council, District 4, Howard and Patricia Silverstein, Linda R. Safran, and Robert and Judith Rubin.
From: Thursday, November 10 2017
Museum of the City of New York
1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street
Isamu Noguchi, Red Cube, 140 Broadway, 1968. Photograph by Edmund Vincent Gillon. Museum of the City of New York, gift of Blair Davis, 2013.3.2.1667;
Ugo Rondinone, Human Nature, Rockefeller Center, 2013. Presented by Nespresso, Organized by Tishman Speyer and Public Art Fund. Photograph by Bart Barlow. Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY;
Times Square Mural (2002) © Roy Lichtenstein, NYCT Times Square-42nd Street Station. Commissioned by MTA Arts & Design.