ART & CULTURE

Five Public Artworks To Make You Rethink New York City Streets

The brightest, boldest and most striking works in New York City out there for everyone to see

Hugh Hayden, The Gulf Stream (2022) at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Photo by Nicholas Knight
Hugh Hayden, The Gulf Stream (2022) at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Photo by Nicholas Knight

By Janet Mercel on 09.2.22

There’s currently a lot of good, accessible art on metropolitan blocks everywhere in New York, but the best ones are bright, challenging, and impossible to ignore. Stretching from the Brooklyn waterfront almost to midtown Manhattan, some are presented in collaboration with invaluable art funds like More Art and Public Art Fund. These public-facing works scratch more profoundly than the surface of decoration, sparking conversation as you stroll the streets or inspiring a worthy detour. At the same time, each installation is deeply thoughtful — poking at social tropes, historical narratives, and the many ways our distant and recent past have shaped our present and future. If you plan to venture out on a tour, here is the map to help you find your way. 

Jenny Sabin Studio, exoKnit (2022) at NeueHouse Madison Square. Photo courtesy of NeueHouse.
Jenny Sabin Studio, exoKnit (2022) at NeueHouse Madison Square. Photo courtesy of NeueHouse.

exoKnit at the NeueHouse Madison Square

Jenny Sabin Studio, the artists and architectural designers behind SinewFlex, the large-scale installation in the Serena Williams building at Nike headquarters in Oregon, have created the exoKnit pavilion at NeueHouse Madison Square. The tunnel-shaped semi-enclosure evokes the necessity of outdoor space during the pandemic and our altered perception of community areas, while the cutting edge materials and construction are attuned to the city’s changing seasons and indoor/outdoor balance of integrated urban gathering spaces. Soft, digitally knitted, environmentally sensitive fibers respond to changes in an integrated LED lighting system. 

The pavilion may have been commissioned by NeueHouse, but anyone wandering across East 25th Street will be able to closely inspect this technological marvel that resembles an extraterrestrial beehive, or the world’s most future-forward crochet bomb.

Mona Chalabi, The Gray-Green Divide (2022) at the Brooklyn Museum.
Mona Chalabi, The Gray-Green Divide (2022) at the Brooklyn Museum.

The Gray-Green Divide at the Brooklyn Museum 

Data journalist Mona Chalabi, as she puts it, “rehumanizes data to better help us understand our world and the way we live in it.” The Brooklyn Museum recently extended her installation, which investigates green space disparities between New York neighborhoods, through September. The artist points out that every decade, volunteers count all the city trees for the Department of Parks & Recreation, block by block, revealing that lower income communities lack equal access to green among the urban gray, and consequently, cleaner air. 

The bright ink and colored pencil drawings feature over 100 common New York City trees and their leaves, wrapping the steps and nearby walls of the Brooklyn Museum in vibrant color that can be seen from many blocks away, making the always-impressive vista of the museum entrance even more inviting.

Installation view of Fred Wilson, Mind Forged Manacles/Manacle Forged Minds (2022) at Columbus Park, Brooklyn. Photo by Kris Graves ©Fred Wilson, courtesy Pace Gallery
Installation view of Fred Wilson, Mind Forged Manacles/Manacle Forged Minds (2022) at Columbus Park, Brooklyn. Photo by Kris Graves ©Fred Wilson, courtesy Pace Gallery
Installation view of Fred Wilson, Mind Forged Manacles/Manacle Forged Minds (2022) at Columbus Park, Brooklyn. Photo by Kris Graves ©Fred Wilson, courtesy Pace Gallery
Installation view of Fred Wilson, Mind Forged Manacles/Manacle Forged Minds (2022) at Columbus Park, Brooklyn. Photo by Kris Graves ©Fred Wilson, courtesy Pace Gallery

Mind Forged Manacles/Manacle Forged Minds at the Downtown Brooklyn

In Columbus Park, in the virtual shadow of the nearby Kings County Criminal Courthouse, sits the first large-scale public sculpture of artist Fred Wilson. The ten foot tall units are wrought from decorative ironwork and fencing, surrounding the carved African, Latinx and Native American figures inside and examining concepts of fear, captivity, freedom and fences – both real and metaphorical, ancient and modern. 

More Art collaborated with Wilson on the site-specific work, the location of historically contested Brooklyn land, and partnered with the Center for Court Innovation on a series of youth workshops through June 2023, as well as programming at the sculpture site including performance, dance, music and spoken word poetry.

Nina Beier, Women & Children (2022) at The Highline. Photo by Timothy Schenck
Nina Beier, Women & Children (2022) at The Highline. Photo by Timothy Schenck

Women & Children at The Highline 

Artist Nina Beier composed an assemblage of found bronze sculptures of varying genres to create Women & Children at Little West 12th Street on the High Line, through April 2023. The title plays with gender stereotypes, as in the Victorian maritime instruction of “women and children first.” The sculptures form a fountain of tears to embody hysterical impressions of women, historically “the weaker sex”, crying to emphasize their fragility. The exhibition is presented by Friends of the High Line.

Kiyan Williams, Ruins of Empire (2022) at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Photo by Nicholas Knight
Kiyan Williams, Ruins of Empire (2022) at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Photo by Nicholas Knight

Black Atlantic at the Brooklyn Bridge Park

The Public Art Fund group exhibition runs through November down at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Sculpture and other integrated artworks by Leilah Babirye, Dozie Kanu, Tau Lewis, Kiyan Williams and Hugh Hayden (who also co-curated with Daniel S. Palmer), are placed throughout Piers 1, 2, and 3. The Brooklyn waterfront was an active colonial maritime harbor, and the installation explores the complicated cultural exchange that comes with centuries of cross-continental transit that landed on American shores. 

Hugh explains, “Black Atlantic will illustrate a counterpoint to a monolithic perception of Blackness, and is reflective of the multitude of ways in which individuals can create a new vision within the context of American culture that is expansive, malleable and open to all.” The works are life size and then some, incorporated into the local and literal landscape in a way that makes them appear as though they’ve always been there, yet making a powerful visceral impression on anyone happening by.

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