Take a Cross-Country Public Art Road Trip


With Rob Pruitt’s sleek monument to Andy Warhol recently unveiled in Union Square and Sol Lewitt’s modular structures being installed in City Hall Park (both installations are presented by New York’s Public Art Fund), we’ve been contemplating innovative art that’s accessible outside the traditional context of museums and galleries. In the coming weeks as you take to city streets, benches, park lawns, (and garages!) keep an eye out for what’s going up around you. That skeletal advertising billboard may not be an actual advertising billboard but one of three works by artist Kim Beck. In celebration of Beck, Lewitt, Pruitt and other artists whose work is on public display this spring, take a virtual road trip with us from New York to Seattle to explore some of the most exciting works, both recently unveiled or well-renowned, in some Flavorpill cities.

New York, NY

Kim Beck, Space Available, The High Line Park. Photo by Tim Schreier

Take a stroll on the High Line Park, that little strip of elevated public space in Chelsea, and you may spot some oddly familiar structures, what look like frameworks for billboards stripped of their facades propped loftily on the rooftops of buildings. But they’re not billboards. These three sculptures are part of Space Available, Kim Beck’s rooftop public art installation presented by Friends of the High Line within the High Line Art program. What’s neat is the structures, which were lifted by cranes onto the buildings, turn nearly flat as you walk and your perspective shifts, revealing the perceived depth to be mostly illusion. The exhibit takes its name from the signs that announce spaces for rent, whether retail, advertising, or other, that have become a harbinger of recession economics. But they also, according to Beck, reflect our “constructed vision of a neighborhood.” You can hear Beck talk about her work at the upcoming artist talk on May 6. Hopefully, our vision will be less affected by recession when these come down next January.

Also notable is Kota Ezawa’s City of Nature, an original video-collage commission for Mad. Sq. Art that weaves together excerpts from popular films, ranging from Fitzcarraldo to Twin Peaks in which nature is the only character that gets screen time. Check it out in Madison Square Park through May 15.

Miami, FL

Guido Galletti, Christ of the Deep at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Image courtesy Miami NewTimes

Now that that piano is no longer on the sandbar in Biscayne Bay, we turn your attention to Christ of the Deep by Italian artist Guido Galletti. This 4,000-pound bronze statue is a replica of Christ of the Abyss, off the coast of Italy. The nine-foot sculpture serves as an underwater shrine within the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park off Key Largo. The statue rests in 25 feet of water on a 20-ton concrete base. It is one of the most photographed underwater sites in the world, and is a hot spot for watery weddings.

Chicago, IL

Jaume Plensa, Crown Fountain, Millennium Park

Crown Fountain is comprised of a shallow reflecting pool at each end of which stands a 50-foot tower of glass block. But rather than gargoyles spouting water in this fountain, water spurts from the mouths of ordinary Chicago citizens whose images are projected onto LED screens on the towers. The collection of faces, the artist’s tribute to Chicagoans, was taken from a wide cross-section of 1,000 residents. And as the weather gets warmer, it will be a great way to cool down while appreciating fine art in public.

San Francisco, CA

Maya Lin, What is Missing? Photo: Bruce Damonte courtesy of the San Francisco Arts Commission

Maya Lin, sculptor and landscape artist, rose to public renown for her design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a project she was awarded based on a proposal she submitted at the age of 21 while still an undergraduate at Yale. What is Missing? is the first piece in a series of multi-sited, multimedia artworks aimed at raising awareness of the crisis related to biodiversity and habitat loss. The work, which was commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission, is composed of bronze, reclaimed redwood, laminated glass, and single-channel video with sound. In 2010, What is Missing? was recognized as one of America’s best public artworks at the Americans for the Arts Convention in Baltimore. It is over eight feet high and nearly twenty feet long.

Las Vegas, NV

RETNA, part of the Wallworks series at the Cosmopolitan Hotel

If you happen to be driving through Vegas, make sure to stop in at the Cosmopolitan Hotel — and start with the garage, specifically levels B2, B3, B4, and B5. Only there will you come across Wallworks, an art series that commissions prominent graffiti artists to put their mark on garage walls. The Cosmopolitan teamed up with New York’s nonprofit Art Production Fund giving each floor of the garage to a different artist including Kenny Scharf, Shepard Fairey, RETNA, and Shinique Smith. While the Cosmopolitan proudly proclaims on their website “We’re not for everyone,” at least their artwork can be enjoyed by everyone, for free.

Los Angeles, CA

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. Giant binocular shape incorporated into the Frank Gehry design for the Chait Day Mojo office building. 1985-1991

Beginning in 1976, Claes Oldenburg collaborated with Dutch/American writer and art historian Coosje van Bruggen. In addition to their freestanding works, like Spoonbridge and Cherry at the Walker Art Center, from time to time Oldenburg and van Bruggen, who are married, contribute to architectural projects like this Frank O. Gehry design of the former Chiat/Day advertising agency headquarters in the Venice district of Los Angeles. The interior of the giant binoculars is so roomy that it contains a conference room.

Seattle, Washington

John Young, The Fin Project, 1998. Warren G. Magnuson Park: North loop trail below Sand Point (Kite Hill)

What appears to be a group of shark tails over the grassy plain overlooking Lake Washington is, in fact, 22 fins — each weighing 10,000 lbs — from decommissioned diving planes from 1960s US Navy attack submarines. The Fin Project, an installation by artist John Young, is an homage to the power of ecologically sound practices and an exploration of the transformation of implements of war into art. The artist notes that the work “represents a significant amount of the national deficit being returned to the people for their enjoyment and appreciation.” Through the dynamic placement of the fins, this grassy plain can almost be mistaken for a body of water.