Public Art Trip: New York City | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios

Public Art Trip: New York City | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios

SARAH GREEN: This episode
is supported by Prudential. There are so many
museums in New York City. This is a good
problem, of course, but it can be
tremendously overwhelming. If you have a few days in
the city or even a few years, you just cannot see everything. So when we were there on
a recent filming trip, and the weather was
unseasonably warm, we decided to forgo inside art
viewing completely and soak up as much outside art as we could. It’s abundant, it’s
accessible, it’s free, it’s public art, folks, and
New York City has it in spades. First up, Madison
Square Park, which has hosted an outstanding
contemporary art program since
2004, commissioning artists to create ambitious
large scale temporary works like this by Teresita Fernandez,
this piece by Orly Genger, and this work by Jaume Plensa. We resisted the Shake Shack
urge, which was strong, and walked around the park
to admire Martin Puryear’s contribution from
many different angles. It’s a 40-foot tall structure,
abstract but anthropomorphized by the large gold leaf
shackle that adorns its head. It sits proudly in the
middle of the lawn, confident despite its
intimidating environs. It’s titled Big
Bling, and you can see how its jewelry mimics
that of the gold roof of the nearby New
York Life building, making me think about the
trophiness of architecture, as well as the
trophiness of much art. But this piece is
temporary, not forever, made of somewhat rough
but masterfully hewn wood wrapped in metal mesh. It’s porous and exactingly
proportioned, not heavy and hulking. And if you don’t see it here,
it will be in Philadelphia next. Then we took the subway to
City Hall Park, the green space adjacent to, you
guessed it, City Hall, where we were greeted by
these happy Italian bunnies by Claudia Comte, part of
the outdoor exhibition, The Language of Things,
put on by Public Art Fund. Each of these marble
forms is named after an historic Italian
artist– Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, insert and then
remove Ninja Turtle joke. But the seriousness
of the material is undercut by the
exuberant expressiveness of the cartoonish shapes. Unlike cold, hard,
modernist sculptures that sit sadly atop
cement pads, these guys are popping up from the grass
to check things out, make us feel welcome, and encourage
us to consider what we think of as great art and why. We also gave a listen to Chris
Watson’s sound installation, Ring Angels, featuring
the sound of thousands of flocking starlings
moving in close formation. It’s a little pocket of sound
in a part of the city that is already quite loud and
full of migrating people. It created a little moment,
where my attention was called away from the crush
of the human world and toward the equally
complicated and often noisy workings of the natural world. Then we got back on the
train and went uptown to the High Line starting at
West 23rd Street, where we found Nari Ward’s Smart Tree. The piece is the
artist’s re-imagination of a childhood memory in which
he saw a lime tree growing out of an abandoned car in his
father’s front yard in Jamaica, where Ward grew up. In this version, the
car is now a brand new Smart Car given
a skin of tire treads and immobilized
on cement blocks. It’s filled with dirt
and rocks and sprouts a rather neat-looking
arrangement of greenery and a cared-for apple tree. For me, it reads as
an encapsulation, and not an unambiguously
positive one either, of the High Line itself,
a former elevated rail line abandoned, and then
after years of neglect, turned into this hip,
highly cultivated park and thoroughfare. We walked south and came upon
Barbara Kruger’s foreboding pronouncement, which we
rather appropriately couldn’t see from first
approach, and then had to look backward
to view clearly. Continuing on, we faced
another forboding pronouncement from Kathryn Andrews. Beyond this point, you may
encounter nude sunbathers, but you will probably
just encounter delicious popsicles and
lots of people with cameras. But if you keep going,
you will definitely encounter Tony Matelli’s
disquieting Sleepwalker. It’s life-sized, hyperrealistic,
and is constantly abuzz with people
interacting with it. I couldn’t help but
think about what it might be like to
come upon this piece alone with no one
around, maybe at night, and how different
the effect would be. But during regular busy hours,
it still made me uneasy. It still made me ask, what are
we all doing here walking along this narrow, crowded pathway? Are we awake to this
experience or to any? I like the High Line. I really do. It gives you a pedestrian
experience in New York, uninterrupted by cars
and utterly distinct from Central Park. It gives you great
views of the city, of neighborhoods experiencing
tremendous change, development, and skyrocketing
property values caused in part by the success of this
thing that you’re walking on. Like any human-made thing, it
has flaws and repercussions, but you can get your
feet wet, and there’s an odd little theater
for watching traffic. And it has an active
art program that presents new and
usually interesting installations that make
me return to the place again and again and to get to
know the place and the city in different ways. We ended the day in Grand
Army Plaza at the southeast corner of Central Park to see
David Shrigley’s giant shopping list. It’s a cheeky counterpoint
to the neighboring William Tecumseh Sherman Memorial. There we have a formal
gilded bronze monument to a Civil War general. Just beyond that, we have a
monument of luxury hotels. But here we have a giant
monument to the every day, engraved in a solid
slab of granite. Like good public art, it
directs your attention to that which
surrounds it and you and makes you look
with different eyes at the people surrounding
you– the scrum of diverse individuals, many
tourists, but just as many going about their
everyday routine. Then we lost our light
and had to call it a day. The next day, we were
already in Queens, so we decided to go to
Socrates Sculpture Park. It’s a stunning perch from
which to look at Manhattan, but it is also a
tremendous exhibition space that gives artists
at many career stages opportunities to make
large scale outdoor work. I wanted to see Meg Webster’s
Concave Room for Bees, which I was a bit dubious of,
as artists’ attempts to harness nature are
too often underwhelming. But I should have
remembered that Webster has been doing this kind of
work since before a bunch of social practice artists
gave it a bad name. She’s been making successful,
thoughtful projects using natural materials
since the 1970s. Anyway, this piece
does the thing it’s supposed to do– attract
bees– and does it marvelously. You can’t hear
it, but this space was buzzing and teeming
with bees and butterflies and abundant life. Bravo, Meg Webster. Show them how it’s done. Socrates Sculpture Park
came to be 30 years ago when a group of artists
and community members led by sculptor, Mark di Suvero,
transformed an old landfill and illegal dump site into an
open studio, outdoor museum, residency program,
and local park. Their Emerging Artist
Fellowship Exhibition was just being installed, which I
really wish I could have seen completed, but was glad
to at least get a peek at. We then took the world’s
longest Uber ride to Brooklyn Bridge Park to check
out Mary Mattingly’s Swale, a floating garden
that made me further reconsider my condemnation of
artists who try to grow things. It’s a giant floating
platform containing a garden of edible plants,
currently docked at Pier 6, but which has moved to
several sites around the city. It provides free produce
to those who stop by, as well as educational resources
about how food forests can be awesome and benefit
everyone, but which have been illegal on New York
City’s public land for almost a century. Not technically on
public land, Swale is an end-around
that will hopefully spur a reconsideration
of the rules while spreading healthy food
and goodwill in the process. At the end of Pier 6 was
Martin Creed’s Understanding, another fine commission
by the Public Art Fund. It stands before a tremendous
backdrop, the city of New York, and its message is at
once simple and expansive. The city is awash
in signs, and those who work here in the public
realm are well aware of it. Creed’s sign is monumental and
unmissable in bright red neon that I wish I’d also
witnessed at night. Understanding, it seems,
is a thing that spins, that snaps in and out of focus. It’s the thing we
desperately seek and a thing that art is
supposed to facilitate. And it looks different
and more distorted the closer you are to it. It’s moving, and you’re moving. It’s impossible to pin
down, and it’s as good a moment as any to
conclude our brief venture into this remarkable,
indecipherable, and ever-changing city. This episode was
supported by Prudential. The time between
when people think they should start
saving for retirement and when they actually do
is known as the action gap. And according to a recent
survey conducted by Prudential, the average American starts
saving for retirement seven years later
than they think is best, which can cost
over $410,000 in a lifetime. Prudential also found
that 80% of Americans have never estimated how
much retirement they cost. One in three Americans
is not saving enough for their retirement,
and over half are not on track to maintain
their current standard of living when they retire. Go to,
and see how the action gap affects you.

71 thoughts on “Public Art Trip: New York City | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios”

  • Wonderful video! I really enjoyed this one, especially as I am trying to gain a greater appreciation for contemporary art and art that's easily accessible and visible by all.

  • What su op? u think you r video was really good espexailly the par t where yopu takl about what the golden shackel menat. can you splese make one aboput my art its linked here please whatch it really closely so you can learn al ot about it and it is good:

  • The episodes are so poetic, and convey the artworks so eloquently ! Thank you Art Assignment for beautiful and educational art content.

  • Sleepwalker WAS in a place where women would often come upon it alone at night. And they were creeped out and insecure and protested its placement.

  • PLEASE do a video on social practice art. I took a class on it and have been to several exhibitions, but still need more convincing

  • Great video, My parents and I just saw some these displays the other week too! I like all the work you and your husband do!

  • The formal assignments are cool and I've done a few of them, but these analysis videos are my favorite. Keep it up!

  • Love these videos. Don't know where else to ask this, but do you or anyone have any good book recommendations on art or art history?

  • on a more serious note. there has got to be a way to do public art without gentrifying everything everywhere. I mean, I guess there is and it gets called graffiti and sandblasted away to make space for the gentrifying kind. blah.

  • This is so perfect, we're going to NYC (from australia) in just over a month and we'll definitely see some of these, thank you for this!!

  • Gah! I was just in NYC last week! Look at all the cool art I missed. Must return ASAP. Thanks as always for the wonderful videos.

  • Recently, I met Martin Creed during a talk he gave at my university. We were able to ask him questions about his art work and hear some his performance pieces. The way he described his 'understanding' piece is quite different from your opinion. Creed is a quiet person, who often ponders why he should understand things and how we communicate as people. He's always felt like he struggled with talking to people (which made sense as he wasn't that well spoken during this talk). In fact the reason he creates art and music is so that people talk to him, to break him from his boundries, and makes him communicate with others.
    Originally this piece should was going to say 'Love, Peace, Understanding' in the bold red lettering. However, he had to reconsider this as he unfortunately didn't have enough funding to cover having three large words in neon. He then had to consider what word and why out of the three he'll select. He got rid of 'love' and 'peace' as society today with all the war and hatred that's happening, he didn't feel like it really communicated what he felt about the world. He doesn't feel like the world will ever be filled with love or peace, which just left him with understanding. While this world isn't exactly filled with love or piece, he feels like we may get to the point where we understand each other. That even though people may disagree with each other, people often could try understanding the other persons view. Much like this comment is doing now, I guess? I'm not trying to attack your opinion on the piece, I was just informing you on his thought process for this piece. Hope you found it interesting!

  • This video for some reason really made me wish there was a physical place to see other people's Art Assignment submissions. I feel like standing there and seeing them would be so much different than scrolling through them. What about at VidCon? Maybe a few could be printed out and people's descriptions/stories printed out below. And maybe you could have a phone there that people could pick up and listen to clips from the "one who got away" assignment. I love seeing people actually create things while they are there, but it would also be nice to see what the community has made. The PBS booth is a haven in the crazy of VidCon. There aren't really screaming fans. There are people making art, testing our science, sitting at tables and making new friends. Then I just picture someone in the corner with an old rotary phone to their ear listening to a stranger's story of heartbreak. The Chill Lounge just reminds me of all the reasons YouTube can be special.

  • Thank you for sharing this view of New York? it was very interesting for me. I loved room for bees and swale in particular.

  • "Understanding" is one of my favorite things in NYC, and it really rewards repeated visits at different times of day and with different crowds. To me, it seems almost assertively ambiguous – a word with many possible interpretations, presented in a way which offers you no typographic or stylistic guidance as to how it wants to be interpreted, and always moving – even the speed of the rotation changes. I'm sad that it's temporary, and soon to reach the end of it's run, but maybe that's appropriate as well. Understanding is never permanent, it's somehow always slipping away when your back is turned.

  • "Insert and remove Ninja Turtles joke." You're reading all of our minds, aren't you? 😉 😀 Love love love your description/interpretation of Understanding! Really wonderful exploration of what it could be. And this makes me all the more want to go visit the High Line. I've been so excited about it ever since they started adaptively re-using it — urban parks (like Parc Andre Citroen) are so vital and essential to the heart of a city.

  • I wish I could see Martin creed's understanding!! He's my favourite artist but I'm stuck here in England missing out on all of his New York exhibitions and installations and I couldn't even get to Scotland for the talks he did there!! I had to drive three hours to see a one of his exhibitions and it was glorious

  • This is a great video, Sarah! I hope you'll go back to NYC at some point… out of all the artistic places I wish I could know more about, it's probably both the one I'm most interested in, and the least accessible.

  • You should really go to Stockholm, Sweden and do a Subway Art Trip, because in 90 out of 100 subway stations in Stockholm there are some incredible art projects. see this link –

  • I loved walking the tiny stretch of the High Line I was able to see at the start of this year during my first trip to NYC.

  • Great film! Loved ur explanation too. Not dowdy like some art class. Totally gonna get the sunnies and hit da parks 😎

  • I can't believe my luck! Finally I finally saved enough money to visit NYC this April, turns out every piece in the video would be gone by then! not only that, but other Public Art Fund's new works won't be revealed until May, as the black whirpool of Anish Kapoor. I booked for just the time when there will be nothing to see in these places!

  • This is my personal obsession. I have started a public art tour in my city. Please come out to Honolulu Sara !! I would be honored to have you join one of my tours!

  • thanks! my broke ass self is going to NYC to visit family and i wanted to see as much art as I can this is a great way to do that on a budget 🙂

  • My wife and I love this series. Awesome content, super interesting. Some constructive criticism regarding pacing; the videos would be a lot easier for the audience to digest if there were some pauses in the VO. It's a constant barrage of (useful) information – if you allow the listener a moment to absorb chunks of this info before moving onto the next point, they can reflect on each 'chapter' with the footage in front of them, thus the impact would overall be higher.

  • I love the meeting space between art and the urban environment. I’m really excited about tactical urbanism as a meeting place between urban planning/public policy, art and democracy right now

  • NYC is a too busy. I lived there for a year and I did not like it at all. The art museums and public arts were great but I honestly love living in Helena, Montana more.

  • I love to see New York and all of the art as a public playground for creativity. This video feels so free and open which the city cant always be.

  • This brought back a very distinct memory from a few years ago of reading Looking for Alaska for the first time at Socrates Sculpture Park. Weird.

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