We’ve been in New York City for a few weeks now, soaking up the excitement and diversity of The Big Apple, which, for me, includes taking as big a bite as I can out of the art scene.
So I’ve been uptown and downtown, to the east side and the west side of Manhattan Island (sorry, Brooklyn, no time for you this time), and I’ve seen a chunk of what new things the galleries and museums have to offer.
Until today, it’s been mostly a downer. Aside from a one-week show of the work of the South Korean artist Sung Hee Cho or the little Lower East Side gallery show of Joan Waltemath’s paintings, what’s been on display has been–now let me be charitable here–mostly baffling.
For example, take a stroll through the spacious rooms of the New Museum on The Bowery, at its “Triennial” show. On display, at least as far as my wife and I are concerned, is exhibit after exhibit of confounding, obscure, intellectually overreaching efforts in a variety of mediums. The show features young, global artists on the rise, so I guess we’re in store for more of the same for decades to come.
Talking to the curators at their private galleries or reading the “explanations” on the museum walls, what I’ve come away with is a feeling that the real “art” is the creative mumbo jumbo used to pitch the works on display. In today’s art world, it seems, the words used to explain the works are of figuratively greater weight than the sum of the pieces being shown.
So, it was to my utter amazement that as I happened earlier today to walk through Madison Square Park, I found myself unexpectedly engulfed in a work of public art. Although the project has been only about 20% installed, it is a work of such immediate beauty that it has restored my belief in art as a wordless passageway into a world of wonder.
The work being installed is called “Fata Morgana,” and it is the product of the fertile mind of an artist named Teresita Fernandez, an American of Cuban parentage. The “sculpture”–if one can call something as massive and broad as this project a single thing–consists of a series of highly polished mirrors, in multiple layers, sitting atop giant scaffolding along the pathways in different locations in the park. The mirrors, facing downward, are cut through in shapes that leave negative spaces shaped as if they are clouds. In addition, there are layers of like-shaped, non-mirrored greenish glass directly above the mirrored ones.
The effect of all this is to not simply reflect what is underneath–the people, objects, pavement, grass, etc.–but to literally change that everyday view into an almost abstract landscape as one walks underneath. Once completed, I can envision a walk along the park’s paths being transformed into following a magical passageway, one you won’t want to leave too soon.
This is art that stops you in your tracks, allowing you the luxury of looking up in wonder. As I was coming to a halt under the one sculpture in place, I happened to literally bump into a family that was slowly moving the other way. “Excuse me,” I apologized, “but I was looking up.” “We all are!” the woman I’d bumped into replied, as she, her mate and a child they had in tow all smiled.
We were not alone. Already, people are standing or sitting under the mirrors, looking up and having an encounter with the simple joy of looking. This was just after midday. Since the park is illuminated at night, I’ve got to go back to see what it looks like after dusk.
The entire project is scheduled to be on display until January 2016. I can only imagine how the changing seasons will invite viewers to come back again and again to take in a world that is at once reflected and reconfigured. As I see it, there is nothing new under New York’s art world sun that can even remotely compare.