February 17, 2009

The Tree Huggers on Myrtle Avenue: Public Art on a Mainstream Street

A tree is hugged in Brooklyn.

I had every intention of visiting the Chelsea art district today, but wanderlust overtook me for the greener (though winter now) pastures of Brooklyn. Curious about the Myrtle Avenue Public Art Program's ambitions to install temporary outdoor sculptures along a stretch of a needy major commercial thoroughfare, I decided to visit Person Square (Myrtle and Carlton Avenues) to visit the first of these installations, Wiktor Szostalo and Agnieszka Gradzik's Tree Hugger Project.

The journey to look at these fetching twiggy people hugging the trees on a triangle of Brooklyn became something of an adventure. Emerging from the bustling Jay Street station, I got turned around until a policeman pointed me in the right direction to Myrtle Avenue. It's a fun, bustling world, this downtown Brooklyn, and I was glad I decided on an unknown walk rather than a familiar one. Soon I found myself walking along the Myrtle Avenue promenade within Brooklyn's expanding MetroTech Center. I couldn't decide whether I was walking through a campus or within a business mall, but as it turns out, the juxtaposition of a Marriott Hotel, Polytechnic Institute of NYU, a couple of banks, and a few non-profits made it seem a little of both. Nice trees along in here, I thought, even though it's winter still and they're bereft of leaves, and there's plenty of sculpture to stop and contemplate in this MetroTech.

Leaving the Center and walking east invited some doubts, however, as I seemed to be walking into a neighborhood searching for definition. New condo developments seemed like question marks. For a while, the urban landscape was not so pretty. As I continued east, tall brick public housing structures on the right and left came into view, with little in the way of mixed-use development to engender social life. Though this stretch was bleak, a product of ill-informed planning of decades past, I had no reason to be fearful. Anyway, these blocks came to an end, and Fort Greene Park appeared on my right, a reminder once again that Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux own this city.

At the end of the park and to my left, I saw the Tree Huggers in their small triangular park. I stopped and enjoyed their desperate and loving embrace, the tree partners so taller than their companions. Looking past them and down the street toward the west, the Empire State Building came into view, shimmering from far away and mythical across the water. I then realized that these kinds of views, of looking from a distance back to the shore where one lives, always cheer me up. I feel like I've gotten away just for a little while and can see things from a fresh perspective.

The next few blocks of diverse businesses proved most congenial. I stopped at a muffin shop, a sure sign of embourgeoisiement of these parts, where I enjoyed some decaf and a yogurt cake. If I had known in advance about the drive-through White Castle a few blocks later, I would have stopped there, too.

They've done the right thing, the folks on Myrtle Avenue. Put art in places close to where people walk, shop, and eat, and make it a part of everyday life in the neighborhood.

My walk continued through other places in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, but as I feel like I overstretched myself this afternoon, I will save the rest for another day. I need to hug a tree.

For more on the Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership and the public art initiative, please visit their website.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple. February, 17, 2009. Myrtle Avenue, Brooklyn.

3 comments:

Lissa said...

I was in this area on Saturday, viewing apartments on Carlton Ave - lucky enough to find one near that square. The Tree Huggers seemed like a good omen when I passed them en route.

Glad you enjoyed your walk!

Terry B said...

I remember the first time I visited Brooklyn--probably about my third trip ever to New York--I expected that once I got out of Manhattan, everything would be, if not bucolic, certainly greener and slightly more suburban feeling. No idea where I got that notion, but that was obviously not what I found. If anything, it felt very much like an extension of Manhattan, at least there in Brooklyn Heights.

The Tree Huggers sound like a wonderful example of public art, very engaging. I'm sending a link to your post to a Brooklyn friend. If I can't see it in person, then at least she can. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I especially loved the Tree Huggers. It is good to be shown other worlds as I sit here, over 5,500 feet up in Montana.

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