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N.Y.'s museums without walls

Art exhibitions increasingly are filling outdoor spaces in the Big Apple, giving their visitors carefully curated open-air experiences.

June 26, 2011|Jori Finkel

But the city can offer other forms of support, such as providing public sites for art projects and facilitating construction permits. "You really need all the city departments behind you to realize projects like this," says David Collens, director of the Storm King Arts Center in Mountainville, N.Y.

The Di Suvero show is the first time Storm King has staged an exhibition outside its main campus. It was, Collens says, "a huge logistical challenge," in part because of the size and weight of the works (some approach 40,000 pounds) and in part because of their destination -- an island accessible only by ferry, not bridges. The works came from as far away as Atherton, Calif., home of the Don and Doris Fisher collection. Collens reports that the show cost $1 million to produce, all raised by Storm King.

The LeWitt show also includes works from far afield -- including loans from a foundation in Switzerland and a museum in Minneapolis. And Public Art Fund worked closely with the city, conducting archaeological studies to make sure it wasn't disturbing an 18th century burial site underneath the park and completing engineering studies to make sure some works by LeWitt would not compromise the subway tunnel underfoot.

Baume did not disclose the total costs of the show but said they were "on par with those of producing a major museum exhibition." He ticked off a long list of city officials, including parks and cultural affairs commissioners, who helped facilitate the exhibition.

As for Bloomberg himself, Baume says, "I don't know that everything we do is something he'd love to have at home, but he's totally on board with the idea that creativity drives the spirit and energy and future of New York."

One small example of the mayor's involvement: Last year he participated in a Creative Time project by artist Paul Ramirez Jonas called "The Key to the City," designating a key that Jonas designed to unlock secret spaces throughout New York the official key to the city for a month.

A larger example has been Bloomberg's ongoing support of cultural programming at Governors Island, led by the island's trust president, Leslie Koch. She says one of her strategies for bringing the moribund island back to life is to open the door to artists, including letting them design a mini-golf course (or this summer a tree house) and facilitating big shows like the Di Suvero.

"We have no programming budget and no curatorial staff. We don't get involved with selection of artists or works any more than we get involved with the selection of plants on our organic farm in the summertime." Rather, she says, she encourages projects by "constantly talking to the city's arts organizations."

The island is open to the public Fridays through Sundays during the summer, and one lead attraction is free bicycle rentals. Koch believes art is another. "We had 26,000 visitors in 2006, the first year the island was open to the public. Last year, we had 443,000. I believe the arts have played a huge role in the island's popularity."

Reached by email, Bloomberg says he makes public art a priority not just because it exposes people "of all different backgrounds and ideologies" to culture but because it reconnects citizens to their own city.

Public art, he wrote, "encourages us to look at our neighborhoods in a new light and with new appreciation. New York City has many of the finest museums in the world, but there's something special about encountering artistic works in an open and public place and as a part of one's everyday life."

Pasternak says she has not seen a more supportive administration when it comes to public art.

"With [former Mayor Rudolph W.] Giuliani you usually didn't ask for permission, you apologized later," she said. "A bunch of us who program in New York have reason to be nervous for when Bloomberg is no longer mayor."


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