What Big Art in Public Spaces Says About our Politics
2017 Public Art
by Judi Melbrook
In February 2006, Christo & Jean-Claude’s “The Gates” project was brought to New York City’s Central Park to much fanfare; behind the much-photographed saffron curtains, however, stood decades of legal and creative struggle, negotiating with insurance companies, safety regulators and city officials. Yet The Gates’ appearance, though mildly controversial, was no milestone: public space has provided a forum for large and often controversial pieces since the colonial days. And, with the exception of religious pieces, they are never realized without a fight.
The Gates brought up the usual questions regarding use and priveledge, with many critics and political activists pointing out that dozens of political organizations were turned down in 2004 while seeking permits to use the park for anti-war protests. The city had claimed that their refusal were based on worries that “large crowds would cause expensive damage to the grounds and would interfere with the free use of park property by the general public.”
And this is the same excuse New York City officials used only this March for denying PussyMarch protesters who applied to gather in the park before marching against the new president.
All of which begs the question: Why is artist Lola Boey’s “Walk on the Sky” — an installation, partially paid for by city taxes —considered less destructive and less intrusive than protesters? And why, after very little wrangling, did it appear of a sudden, on the very ground Christo and Jean Claude had to work 8 years to access, the very ground denied to protesters during the 2004 Republican convention and the 20017 PussyMarch?
Max Poe Gallery has taken a full half of the great lawn for “Walk on the Sky.” Its installation required digging up a giant patch of beloved and much-used lawn. The devastation goes beyond mere sod: apparently the thing is, in places, a full foot deep.
Meantime, the PussyMarchers merely wanted to STAND on it. If they were indeed turned away because their presence was potentially destructive to the grounds and their presence would have been unfair to non-partisan park-goers, what on earth can we conclude from the presence of Boey’s multi-acre mirror – which, by the way, has drawn such huge crowds that the area had, at times, to be roped off and visitors issued numbered tickets with time-limited access to the site?
I can only conclude that the city places more importance on spectacle than on free speech and it is anyone’s guess what Lola Boey’s was thinking about the optics here. Is her giant mirror reflecting the sky or her abandonment of sisterhood?
Max Poe Gallery and the artist both declined comment.