Art In Late Summer: Open to the Public by Emily Warner

As we approach the event horizon of the summer—that nebulous, mid-August point when the season begins its imperceptible slip towards fall—the city pauses for a collective breath. The final wave of vacationers heads to the country. The rest of us trudge on beneath the heat to work. And of course the art world shifts into hibernation mode, many of its white-walled galleries closed through Labor Day. But there’s still plenty of art to see in the city, much of it out of doors. Sensory, spatial, and experiential, New York’s current public art spots are ideal for the distracted gaze of late summer. Below, a brief sampling:

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Jessica Stockholder’s “Flooded Chambers Maid” at Madison Square Park. All photos by Emily Warner.

Jessica Stockholder ’s Flooded Chambers Maid at Madison Square Park is like being inside of one of the artist’s geometric monoprints or her spongy multimedia sculptures. Kaleidoscopic triangles cut an abstract swath across the park’s surfaces—grassy lawn, cobbled pavement, installed metal bleachers—claiming the space for itself with a syncopated rhythm of paint, plastic, rubber mulch, and shaped flower beds. Stockholder’s installations have a way of compressing different layers of scale into themselves, and Flooded Chambers Maid reads not just as real space but as map—space, a sort of color diagram of the park itself, or the jutting angle of Broadway one block south. The title hints at domestic and psychological space, too, and at this late summer point, with gentle scuff marks, worn paint, and flowers straggling from their beds, the work’s rigid geometry has taken on a messier, more human affect.

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If these trees could talk… A tree from Katie Holten’s “Tree Museum.”

Further north in the Bronx, nature plays a different kind of medium, not so much material as storyteller: Katie Holten’s Tree Museum is a collection of audio tales, histories, and musings assigned to the trees that line the Grand Concourse from the South Bronx up to Wave Hill. Bring your cell phone so you can dial the trees’ extensions. At times the recordings settle into the blandness of chummy PR talk; you’re reminded of Giuliani’s 1998 taxicab campaign, where the likes of Joe Torre and Rosie O’Donnell instructed you to buckle up. But there are some interesting contributions all the same, from arborists, activists, engineers, life-long residents. At a dead elm stump outside Franz Sigel Park, forester John Pywell takes you ring by ring through the growth and drought of the tree’s 75-year lifespan; at 153rd Street, digital media artist Andrea Polli invites you to turn from a Norway maple to the Manhattan skyline behind you. Sketches by Holten at the Bronx Museum of the Arts—a meandering root sculpture, a delicate, leaf-like “map” of the concourse—give you some insight into her working process.

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Creepy AA Bronson and Peter Hobbs installation on Governors Island.

While Holten weaves a fabric of community memory in the Bronx, 19 artists at the other end of the island seek out more distant recollections, mining the subjects of war, camaraderie, spiritual presence, and colonial history as part of Creative Time’s PLOT ‘09: This World and Nearer Ones on Governors Island. The island, a former arsenal and deployment point, was sold back to the people of New York from the federal government for one dollar in 2003. Many of the installations are sited in former houses, which gives the whole experience an uncanny domestic feel, akin to apartment hunting or visiting with distant relatives. Anthony McCall ’s Between You and I, a hauntingly contemplative piece in the darkened, lofty vault of the Saint Cornelius Chapel, consists of two video lights projected downwards, cutting ribbon-like segments of light along the floor and ethereal, halo-like cones in the foggy space above. Sited in a nearby house is AA Bronson and Peter Hobbs’ Invocation of the Queer Spirits, consisting of the remnants of a séance held earlier by the artists to invoke the queer and marginalized spirits of the island. Peering through peepholes in the boarded-up doors, you see rooms strewn with ashes, feather boas, food remnants, and candles. At once exclusionary and thrillingly voyeuristic, the work suggests a Duchampian diorama or the traces of a crime scene.

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Some talk, most listen in John Morton’s “Central Park Sound Tunnel.”

Finally, back in Manhattan, there’s John Morton’s Central Park Sound Tunnel, a sound piece sited in an arched pedestrian walkway north of the children’s zoo. When the Delacorte Clock chimes its regular half-hour mark, Morton’s cascade of sound begins, a twenty-minute collage stitched together from Central Park noises picked up over the year. Recorded chimes echo the clock in real time; kids play baseball; the ambient noise of conversation and construction work rolls in. Poet Bob Holman reads sections of a park-inspired piece, and the plaintive strains of someone playing Eleanor Rigby wobble in and out. Though the sounds are all excerpted from the park itself, the experience is strangely and softly disorienting, like falling asleep in a crowded place, or standing at a whisper spot and hearing someone’s voice from yards away. Best of all is the way the rush and bumble of people walking through or stopping by gets pulled into the flow, their own voices echoing alongside Morton’s snippets.

Nina Katchadourian by Mónica de la Torre​
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