Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Art and the Wild Side of NYC's High Line

Art intersects nature in the third and last unopened section of New York City's High Line located between West 34th and West 30th St. The other two-thirds of this elevated park gets all the city's attention with wine bars, gourmet ice pop stands, chaise chairs where freelancers spend most of the day sunning and tapping on iPads, the quasi amphitheater with its wooden risers that attracts a broad swath of New Yorkers and tourists alike, and landscaped lawns that beckon bare feet. In other words, it's a hipster haven quite unlike the untouched, wild section that's been the dominion of weeds and brush swirling around the tracks since the freight trains stopped running in the 1980s. 

Now the old wooden railroad ties sit cracked and rutted on a platform worn by the elements. What a perfect environment to view the outdoor art installation of Swiss-born -- she now lives in Brooklyn -- Carol Bove. (In fact it's her first public U.S. commission.) "Caterpillar" consists of seven sculptures of steel, bronze and a combination of brass and concrete that punctuate the wild scape along some 300 yards of this crumbling path. (It's so debris strewn that you have to sign a waiver to enter.)

The sculptures are integrated into the environment, citing the masses of trains parked in the rail yard far below the High Line, as well as everything from the big (the buildings towering in the distance) to the small (the stones and detritus littering the rail bed). Some compare this exhibition to an urban Zen garden with the pieces sitting like ancient treasures in the thickets of the weeds.

The Bove's sculptures reference the railway itself, using steel industrial tubes and I-beams welded together. The first piece along the path is a giant white curlicue named "Prudence." Then it's steel "14" that's created from oxidized I-beams. A thick slab of bronze, "Monel" with the water damage from Hurricane Sandy on full display as well as another welded steal beamed structure, "A Glyph." "Celeste" is another curlicue that resembles a whitewashed worm doing somersaults.
I recently signed up for one of the free nature walks along this untouched stretch of the High Line that will have "Caterpillar" on display through May 2014, when this parkland will open to the public, after being cleaned up and landscaped while retaining the wildness factor. Check out the website of Friends of the High Line for more information and to reserve a spot on one of these tours.