You can’t fight City Hall, but if you’re visual artist Richard Woods, you can redecorate it. As part of the Public Art Fund project, Woods has been given free reign over several facades at Manhattan’s City Hall, injecting the historic building with his trademark whimsy. He installed wall and door and roof earlier this month, and it will be on display through September. Woods took the time to answer our questions about the project, his current solo exhibit at Chelsea’s Perry Rubenstein Gallery, and why exactly he loves red brick so much.
Read on for our interview and view a slideshow of the installation.
Flavorpill: Did you and the Public Art Fund decide on the concept for this project together? Where did the idea for re-envisioning the security booths come from?
Richard Woods: The Public Art Fund offered the booths as a possible site. In the UK, the red brick style is a vernacular that is a very cheap way to build. It’s also synonymous with “Brownfield site” building (this means former industrial land which is cheap). I think this very “red brick British style” import is interesting, also the sociological twist of the low rent style being imposed on such a prestigious location.
FP: How long did it take to put up the installation? Did you get any strange looks or questions from passersby about why you were cartoon-ifying city property?
RW: Three days. Yes, lots of interest from passers by who might usually pass the booths and not notice them.
FP: As a Brit, how did you feel about bringing your aesthetic to an American municipal building?
RW: The work always deals with surface and re-surfacing so it’s great to have the opportunity to cover the booths temporarily and for the trace of their existence to remain through memory.
FP: You have a solo exhibit right now, which closes tomorrow. What can you tell us about your work there? How is your gallery work different from your public artwork?
RW: I don’t really see the work as different, but the context definitely alters between gallery and public space. Working within the gallery context the work is more controlled; the viewer has a sense of what will happen. In the public domain political events, civic emotions or even the weather can alter how the public might react.
FP: The New York Times had this to say about your solo exhibit: “Mr. Woods’s faux-rustic installation evinces romantic nostalgia for a simpler time when people made everything by hand and lived in houses of real wood.” Do you think the critic was right — are you nostalgic for a more handmade era?
RW: By referring to nostalgia I think the critic implies the “faux-rustic” installation evoke a yearning for a reduction of the choices one has in contemporary life.
FP: In 2007, you collaborated on a furniture collection with Sebastian Wrong. How did that come about, and do you have any plans for more home décor projects?
RW: Yes, Sebastian and I have just completed a new range of products, “Bricks & Mortar.” Sebastian first saw my work in a magazine and contacted me. I enjoy the process of collaboration and look forward to further opportunities.
FP: If you were commissioned to give a new façade to any building in the world, what building would you choose, and what would you do to it?
RW: It would be great to “red-brick” the whole City Hall site.