Let's Talk About Madison Square Park in the Spring, and Public Art

Let's talk about one New York park that always seems to pop in the spring - Madison Square Park. The colors here are outlandish, and yes, while these photos may take the colors up a notch, they do not exaggerate by much. And let's talk about the challenges of creating public art in such a setting.

Madison Square Park, with the Empire State Building

The lawns in Madison Square Park seem overly green in the spring, and the colors of the flora render equally exaggerated. Not all works of art, courtesy of the Madison Square Park Conservancy's art program, Mad. Sq. Art (official site), can live up to the natural and manmade lushness of this place. Under certain circumstances, public art can wither here. Sometimes, the work seems too small and confined. On the other other hand, occasionally we get something big and daring, such as Antony Gormley's EVENT HORIZON (2010) with its life-size figures creepily perched on nearby rooftops (and in the park, too) or Jaume Plensa's ECHO (2011), a monolithic head. This year we have New York-based artist Orly Genger's  RED, YELLOW AND BLUE (2013), an installation in three acts of highly textured nautical rope in the three primary colors. While Gormley's distant and stoic identical figures played with perceptions of the city itself, here we have a monumental though tactile crochet extravaganza on a scale that matches and yet challenges the park surroundings.

Orly Genger's  RED, YELLOW AND BLUE (2013)

One advantage of setting work in Madison Square Park is that the park doesn't carry a lot of baggage, or at least the baggage was forgotten sometime around 1920. The park is malleable in meaning. This is by contrast with Washington Square Park, still a highly contested battleground for Greenwich Village's bohemian freedom-loving legacy, or Tompkins Square, with its East Village dissent and difference, or Union Square, with its history of labor activity. Madison Square Park was once the epicenter of New York fashion, but it slumbered for a few decades, settling into a state of shabby genteel. In recent times, it was neither here nor there, not uptown or downtown enough to warrant much attention. The park was like an Edith Wharton character that had slipped down the social ladder, the Lily Bart of the New York parks system. (Wharton's birthplace, just a skip down W. 23rd, is now an unremarkable building with a Starbucks at street level.)

Orly Genger's  RED, YELLOW AND BLUE (2013)

Today the park is resurgent, buzzing with activity as part of the high-tech mecca known as the Flatiron District. As startup tech firms found the area congenial, visitors started flocking to places such as Eataly on the west side of the park, buying more kinds of pasta and gelato than they ever dreamed, or Shake Shack within the park, lining up for hamburgers at hours uncongenial for dining. Everyone wants some Flatiron action.

Orly Genger's  RED, YELLOW AND BLUE (2013)

The scale of Madison Square Park is pleasing, with just enough lawn and mature trees to provide the comforts of nature within the city. It sits within direct proximity to the Flatiron Building just to the south, and the Empire State Building to the north. These buildings are showstoppers. The park's most famous feature may be the view it affords of the Flatiron, a view that can remarkably evoke the early twentieth century.

View of the Flatiron Building from Madison Square Park

Genger's RED, YELLOW AND BLUE, made of lobster-rope and painted in intense saturations, works well in the park because these three pieces are a bit too over scale, frequently obscuring long views of the park itself. On the other hand, the undulating ropes define or accentuate charming park vignettes. It's a teasing accomplishment, revealing the work to be that of a young artist yet to reach her summer or fall. For now, however, Madison Square Park has found a good companion for its spring.  

Orly Genger's  RED, YELLOW AND BLUE (2013)

Orly Genger's  RED, YELLOW AND BLUE (2013),
• Mad. Sq. Art 2013. Orly Genger: RED, YELLOW AND BLUE
Through September 8, 2013

For more on the artist, read in the article in The New York Times, The Rope Wrangler, Ideas Unfurling May 1, 2013.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple. May 7, 2013.

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