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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Two Artworks Use People as Primary Material

July 7, 2008

Regular People: it’s the art material of the moment.

Last week, Turner Prize winner Antony Gormley won a turn at creating a temporary public artwork for London’s Trafalgar Square. The site is the square’s empty fourth plinth, which has become both a stage for contemporary art experiments and a critical platform from which to question what constitutes a “public”.

The piece is called “The One and The Other”. 2,400 volunteers will occupy the plinth one at a time, for an hour each, 24/7 for a hundred days. These human subjects individually and collectively become the art objects.

In the Independent, Gormley describes:

It’s an opportunity to perform an act of collective creativity, people contributing one hour of their lives that represents Britain now… the exercise will present a national portrait of this time.

…it will be a moment of theatre, someone lifted from common ground and made into an image when they are on top of the plinth … It will be a spectacle, but I’m also concerned about the subjects, what they learn about themselves, exposed in a public arena.

Over at the Tate, another Turner prize winner Martin Creed is exhibiting his new piece “Work No 850”. It consists of a runner sprinting the entire length of the Tate’s neoclassical sculpture galleries. The 86-metre sprints will be “performed” every 30 seconds, from 10am to 6pm, for four months.

In the Telegraph, Creed explains:

Running is the opposite of being still. If you think about death as being completely still and movement as a sign of life, then the fastest movement possible is the biggest sign of life. So running fast is like the exact opposite of death – it’s an example of aliveness.

While both artists are saying that they are celebrating human-ness, these projects (and similar others) make me uncomfortable. I can’t help thinking that regular people are being turned into material objects intended for display and commodification.

There’s a deep, underlying violence to these creative acts. And neither artist seems to have a clue.

In 1904, a 22-year old pygmy named Ota Benga was taken from his home in the Congo, exhibited at the St. Louis World’s Fair, and then put on display as a caged animal in the Bronx Zoo. 40,000 visitors came each day. (He was “rescued” but eventually killed himself.)

It’s 2008. I’m not sure how these artists differ from Ota Benga’s zookeepers a hundred years ago. As they say, the more things change…


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…)