Chanel Mobile Art Container by Zaha Hadid Opens in Central Park

October 20, 2008

“Mobile Art”, a slick UFO-like exhibition space designed by architect Zaha Hadid and commissioned by Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel, has arrived at Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield (off Fifth Avenue and 69th Street). The traveling container for about 20 Chanel-inspired projects (very kindly misbilled as contemporary art installations — don’t be fooled: it’s corporate branding) by a rotating list of international producers will be open to the public from October 20 to November 9.

The promotional-spectacle-disguised-as-art container is on a two-year worldwide tour. Launched in Hong Kong in February 2008, it traveled to Tokyo before arriving in New York. In November, it continues onto London, then Moscow, and finally Paris in 2010. (These stops probably represent the fashion house’s most lucrative markets, yes?)

Adrian Benepe, NY’s Parks & Recreation Commissioner, is ever-eager to further the corporate takeover of public space, aka public-private partnerships:

Our partnership with Chanel continues the great tradition of bringing world class cultural offerings to New York City’s parks… Zaha Hadid’s traveling pavilion will place a futuristic work of architecture and outstanding works of contemporary art in an historic setting in the heart of Central Park. The contrast will be fantastic, melding the vision of one of the world’s most important fashion houses with the beauty of one of the world’s most significant works of landscape design.

Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel’s Fashion President, is ever-eager to equate the company’s products with art:

Mobile Art was conceived as a project that examines the relationship between contemporary art, fashion and architecture. The project pushes the boundaries of the Chanel aesthetic by joining these mediums and creating an innovative artistic experience. As envisioned by Karl Lagerfeld, the project explores the role fashion plays in the everyday life of women through symbolic evocations of the Chanel quilted handbag.

ACK. In the midst of today’s economy, this recalls Marie-Antoinette’s response when she was told that the French had no bread to eat: “Let Them Eat Cake!”

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Public Art In New York City: The Big Money Behind Waterfalls

June 3, 2008

NYT art critic Carol Vogel wrote yesterday about an ambitious public art project going up in New York waters this summer: 4 humanmade waterfalls by Berlin-based Danish artist Olafur Eliasson.

eliasson waterOrganized by the Public Art Fund and the City of New York, the waterfall constructions range from 90-120 feet in height and will be on from June 26 to October 13, from 7am to 10pm. Locations: (1) Pier 35 north of the Manhattan Bridge, (2) eastern foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, (3) between Piers 4 and 5 near Brooklyn Heights Promenade, and (4) north shore of Governors Island.

According to Vogel, the project is

…the city’s biggest public art project since “The Gates”, the $20 million effort by the artists Christo and Jean-Claude in which 7,500 gates festooned with saffron-colored fabric panels were positioned along Central Park’s pathways for 16 days in 2005.

The Christos certainly proved that public art = mass entertainment = big money. Vogel reports that “The Gates” generated an estimated $254 million in economic activity for the city. Return on investment? A whopping 1,270%.

Eliasson’s waterfalls will cost $15 million (all reportedly from private sources). Using the same rate of return, that could bring in over $190 million to New York City. Even half of that would certainly help budget officials deal with sluggish revenues in a recessionary climate. No wonder Mayor Bloomberg’s office is “eager to be involved”. Projects like these turn the city itself into a commodity that can be marketed and consumed.

Already, hotels and tourist agencies are hawking special waterfall packages. The Circle Line Downtown is selling excursions, some with audio by the artist himself. And in a brilliant stroke of pre-event marketing: MoMA and P.S. 1 are currently exhibiting surveys of Eliasson’s work thru June 30. Art is big money.

So, support New York this summer. Go chase some waterfalls! (Did anyone say environmental impact report? Maybe we’ll see that in a few years…)


Two Chinas: Spectacles in Beijing, Ruins in Sichuan

May 28, 2008

I read Paul Goldberger‘s architecture column in The New Yorker today and appreciate his take on Beijing’s spectacular Olympic Green. He writes:

“If Tiananmen Square is a monument to the Maoist policy of self-sufficiency, the Olympic Green, ten miles and fifty years away, is an architectural statement of intent every bit as clear — a testament to the global ambitions of the world’s fastest-growing major economy.

At least two of the buildings on the Olympic Green—the National Stadium, by the Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, and the National Aquatics Center, by the Australian firm PTW Architects—are as innovative as any architecture on the planet, marvels of imagination and engineering that few countries would have the nerve or the money to attempt. The Chinese, right now, have plenty of both.”

What I really appreciate is Golberger’s ultimate point, which makes up part of his subtitle: “….but what message does it send?” It seems that the image of progress (something contemporary architecture is increasingly called upon to conjure) — rather than actual sociopolitical progress — is the administration’s goal. He critiques:

“…there’s no mistaking the old-fashioned monumentalist approach behind it. This is an Olympics driven by image, not by sensitive urban planning…

In both conception and execution, the best of Beijing’s Olympic architecture is unimpeachably brilliant. But the development also exemplifies traits—the reckless embrace of the fashionable and the global, the authoritarian planning heedless of human cost—that are elsewhere denaturing, even destroying, the fabric of the city.

Finishing Goldberger’s article, I couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast between Beijing’s futuristic facilities and the post-earthquake ruins of schools, hospitals, and factories in Sichuan province, where the death toll now hovers around 70,000. The dialectical tension between these two Chinas sadly testify to the transiency and fragility of human constructions and fabricated utopias.

TOP: Photo from Goldberger’s New Yorker column on Beijing; BOTTOM: Photo by Shiho Fukada for the New York Times, two girls at the ruins of Juyuan Middle School
twochinas