Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Collect Pond Art

One of the reasons I had to ride my bike over the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday was that I knew I would pass this Public Art Fund project I have been intending to see for a while. Outdoor art projects I have seen involving gardens or plants by the lesser-funded organizations have often let me down. I thought this one would be no different, but I was wrong. It actually looked good inside its walls. One reason may be that its creators actually build gardens and landscapes outside the practice of art.

The project is called A Clearing in the Streets and the artists are Julie Farris and Sarah Wayland-Smith. Collect Pond Park was the context and thanks to the art, I lingered in this space much longer than the park's condition suggests I should. Although the title describes a clearing in the street, I feel that it works set in this park because of the way the trees subtly register the notion of a "clearing" and because this park is in dismal contrast to the bright nature of their project.

The approach from the south.

The cylindrical frame works to objectify the plants within, intensifies our sense of separation from its contents and concentrates the sense of specimen and display.

The plants within the frame.

Printed on the side are the common-name species, although a few volunteers may have sprouted as well.

Click on these two signs for big, readable images.


  1. You know, I'm an artist; I like seeing art in public spaces, and I like art that has an intellectual side to it. I especially like the idea of art used to promote native species. but when I look at this thing, all I can really think is "boy is that ugly".

  2. I think it's neat. Just goes to show you can have beauty anywhere!

  3. Michelle,
    I've seen a lot of two-bit garden art and I usually have a strong reaction against gardens or farms that want to be Art. Yes, the plywood here is ugly, but I think that ugliness helps activate the space within. Projects like this often run on a simple premise: not enough nature. Build garden and contrast that with what we got -urban infrastructure. The artists certainly do not propose to make a meadow of Manhattan, instead they simply encapsulate "nature" just the way us city folk would conceive of it -simplified contained, objectified, aesthetic. In other words, it doesn't show us a way out, just holds up a mirror. At least that's how I'm seeing it.

    Its okay for it to be ugly and for you to tell it!

  4. Hi NYC! I don't have a problem with ugly art when it is in an appropriate context; i.e. an ugly monster would be in an appropriate context in a movie about ugly monsters. An ugly sculpture, presented nicely, can look good in a public park (which is, I believe, how a lot of modern sculpture gets away with being made at all.) In this case, I'm afraid, the placement of the art is not sufficient to make up for its sheer shoddiness. The admirable message it presents does not make up for the sculpture being an eyesore.

  5. I saw an interview with these two artists. They were asked why they didn't use a more substantial material for the cylinder. I suppose its the put it up quick, tear it down quick mentality that keeps it "shoddy." I see a lot of shoddy art work. Artists are often using ideas about consumerism, garbage society, throwaway architecture, even Marxism as justification for making shoddy objects. But more than anything, I think its budgets that keep objects shoddy, materially, anyhow.

    In person, though, the object is certainly no shoddier than the park it resides in. Up close, it's decently put together, with the exception of the white top framing.

    You are right, the wooden object could have been built more attractively, but I still think it does its job.

  6. I would have liked it if it were truly round. But that would have required more inputs: materials, skills, and funds.


If I do not respond to your comment right away, it is only because I am busy pulling out buckthorn, creeping charlie, and garlic mustard...