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Marlborough Chelsea recently launched a public art group exhibition spread along Broadway between Columbus Circle and 166th Street. Titled “Broadway Morey Boogie,” the exhibition pays homage to Piet Mondrian’s 1943 masterpiece Broadway Boogie Woogie, which abstractly depicts the vibrant, bustling street life of New York City.
Choosing from a roster of both emerging and established artists, director of the gallery Pascal Spengemann said he selected artists that would make work appropriate, interesting pieces to engage viewers. While some of the sites had been previously used for other public works, others were chosen purely for the sculpture’s needs.
Mimicking the diversity of New York City street life, this exhibition includes works of various scale, subject matter, and medium, and seeks to engage audiences through street level accessibility. Participating artists include Joanna Malinowska, Sarah Brama, Devin Troy Strother, Tony Matelli, Lars Fisk, Paul Druecke, Davina Semo, Dan Colen, Drew Heitzler, and Matt Johnson. The public can learn more about each sculpture by calling a number on plaques at every location, which connects them to an informational audio recording.
For the opening preview, Marlborough Chelsea hosted a bus tour taking viewers and artists up and down Broadway. We arrived at the gallery for a brief brunch before loading onto two school buses for our “field trip.” Featured artists mingled with press, collectors, and other guests as we made our ascent uptown—becoming just another square on the Mondrian map.
The bus circled around Malinowska’s Chronicle of the Latter World (inspired by memories of childhood road trips) before making its first stop at Braman’s Another Time Machine. The colorfully tinted glass sculpture was strategically placed at the northern tip of Dante Park in order to play with the lights at the intersection of buildings and traffic. Manipulating the reflected light, Braman’s sculpture functions as both mirror and glass; it makes viewers second guess if the figure they see through the glass is actually standing on the other side, or if it is a reflection of someone standing behind them.
From Another Time Machine, we walked up to Strother’s sculpture of two dancing women Rae’shwana & Dee’shwana and Matelli’s Stray Dog located at 72nd Street and 73rd Street, respectively. Matelli, who was along for the ride, talked to us about his approach to public art. Stray Dog was a sculpture completed in the nineties for a project with the Public Art Fund. The work looks just like its title suggests—it’s a life-size stray dog propped on the sidewalk. Said Matelli, “The city is full of concrete and steel, it doesn’t need more of that… I want my sculptures to project the opposite of the corporate, authoritarian feel of the buildings; I want to create something that evokes fragility and vulnerability.”
Our next stop was Fisk’s Con Ed Ball, a sculpture that warps the likes of a Con Edison truck into a spherical shape. It was part of a series in which Fisk takes common objects and transforms them into spheres; playing with our idea of the function and role those objects play in their lives. For New Yorkers, the logo on Con Edison trucks is immediately recognizable, which is why Fisk chose it as a ubiquitous symbol for this site-specific work. “My goal in creating this sculpture was to lead viewers to question the function. They see it as a corporate identity and thus they’ve learned to expect it to do something, but it’s in an irrational form, it doesn’t function in the way they expect it to,” said Fisk.
The next piece by Druecke, 96th Street Aperture, was the most subtle, yet no less profound sculpture of the exhibition. It mimicked a standard historic plaque, but instead of detailing a building or event of historical merit, the sign alludes to people and places that so often go unnoticed. The text follows the form of traditional historic plaques, but is purposefully more vague—it highlights the formal, poetic aspects of language over the specifics.
The next sculpture—created by Semo—landed on the other end of the spectrum of scale, requiring a crane to be lifted and placed at its 117th Street location. Everything Permitted is a large concrete and steel mesh piece that skirts the line of architecture and artwork. While the steel plates look as if they could function as doors to enter the sculpture, in reality they are impenetrable; thus the sculpture functions as more of a psychological space rather than physical.
Making our way further up Broadway, we passed Colen’s Jazz and Leisure (m&m’s in a more organic form–boulders), and Heitzler’s sculpture of a palm tree titled Long Wharf Monument. Like other works by Heitzler, the blackened palm tree explores Los Angeles’ natural elements and entertainment culture as it intersects with its past in the industrial industry of fossil fuel and petroleum.
Our tour came to a contemplative conclusion as we were led to Johnson’s Hiroshima Buddha. It is a replica of a Buddha sculpture that survived the Hiroshima blasts, and is a testament to resilience. Its symbolism is especially significant in its current location, being that the park in which it resides is surrounded by hospitals. This is the first time Johnson’s sculpture has been displayed outdoors and the inside of the Buddha has been planted with grass in order to reflect its natural surroundings.
“Broadway Morey Boogie” is on view through February 1, 2015.