Category Archives: art

Soaring with Pigeons: The Event of a Thread at the Park Avenue Armory

The current art experience transforming the Park Avenue Armory has people swinging through the air in the massive drill hall’s 55,000 square feet, with a giant swath of fabric billowing in the center of it all. It’s called The Event of a Thread and is by the artist Ann Hamilton. I’ve been three times since it has opened (I always must take the visitors to the best in NYC immersive art) to relax under the mesmerizing white sheet or soar on one of the creaky wooden swings.

When you enter the installation, you see two people reading into microphones with pigeons on either side. Their voices are being transmitted to speakers contained in paper bags around the room that look like sack lunches someone has forgotten. If you get to the installation about 20 minutes until it closes, an opera singer steps out on a balcony and sings, and then the pigeons are released to fly to their coop suspended above the hall. It is really quite beautiful. The recording of that song is then played when the installation opens the following day.

The Event of a Thread

The Event of a Thread

The Event of a Thread

The people on the swings definitely dictate the dynamic of the space. Once I went and it was mostly children, making it feel like a dreamlike playground with lots of gleeful screeching. However, when it’s mostly adults, people who probably haven’t been on a swing in years, maybe decades, it gives it a whole different feeling of nostalgic joy.

The Event of a Thread

The Event of a Thread

At the opposite end of the room from the readers is a writer at a table who is scribbling out a response to what is happening in the hall. They can see the installation reflected in a mirror above them that tilts with a swing. I wish I could have applied for this position, just look at the awesome fuzzy coat/cape the color of pigeon feathers they get to wear!

The Event of a Thread

The Event of a Thread

The Event of a Thread

One of the most amazing parts of the installation is the way the 42 swings are connected to the ceiling, in this really complicated lattice of chains and weights. There are even a couple connected accordions wheezing up there to give it a sort of strange soundscape. The lighting is also a great detail, with a long rectangle illuminating the exact path of each swing. At the end of the day, all of the light in the armory gets quietly darker except for those oblong forms on the floor.

The Event of a Thread

The Event of a Thread

While The Event of a Thread would be lifeless without the swinging people, I think the best place to experience the installation is beneath the cascade of white fabric. Looking up is entrancing as it is pulled this way and that in an erratic flow depending on how high the people are soaring on their swings. On a busy day, a whole herd of people are collapsed there, with some of the paper bag speakers transmitting the rambling narrative of the speakers, who are reading poetry, philosophy, scientific texts, and other selections. It’s all very meditative.

The Event of a Thread

I’m excited to see what 2013 brings to the Armory, as I was continually impressed with what I saw there in 2012, including Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s The Murder of Crows, Tom Sach’s Mission Mars, and Philip Glass’ Another Look at Harmony. If you happen to be in NYC this week, you have until January 6 for The Event of the Thread. Pictures don’t really do it justice, but hopefully if you can’t make it, this recap gave you a bit of the ethereal experience.

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Discovering Columbus from a Living Room High Above the City

Most major cities have them, those figures of triumph and history perched high up on columns above traffic circles that are labeled with their names. But aside from the names, what can we actually know of this statues of men (as they are almost always men) several stories up from our eye levels? Well, currently if you’re in NYC you can go right up to the stone Christopher Columbus who is perched above the busy Columbus Circle on the southwest corner of Central Park. Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi’s installation “Discovering Columbus” has surrounded the 13-foot-tall Columbus with a living room supported by scaffolding, where you can lounge on a couch and watch CNN while getting a close look at this usually distant sculpture.

This week, me and my friend Hannah paid Columbus a visit. You have to first climb up 75 feet of stairs surrounding the granite column that supports the monument by Italian sculptor Gaetano Russo. The giant Columbus rising up from an ordinary-looking coffee table and taking up a good portion of the room is immediately amusing, and most people seemed inclined to hang around and spend some time in the presence of the comically oversize marble colossus.

It’s hard to tell from my photos how high up we are, so here is a 1907 shot of Columbus Circle, not too long after the statue and its column were erected in 1892 to mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. You can see some street cars drive by its base, and a lot of buildings that have since disappeared. And maybe a ghost in the lower left corner??? One can only guess.

Since Columbus has been standing proud with one hand on hip for over a hundred years, he’s experienced some weathering and decay, and the art installation doubles as a preservation effort. Yet despite the years, there were still surprising details of the statue, like the buckles of his shoes and wrinkles of his clothes, things that would be impossible to discern from below.

I should mention that the wallpaper in the room was also hilarious, with a crazy mix of Americana, from Devil’s Tower to Michael Jackson to McDonald’s.

The view from the platform was also amazing, looking to the park and up along Broadway. I love these views that you never expect to have, and here was a view that was once that of the stone Columbus alone. Now we can join him in his stoic gaze at the tumult of the city that has risen up to his level in the decades of his watch from on high.

If you’re in NYC, you have until December 2 to visit him!

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Tom Sachs’ Mission Mars at the Armory

This is the last week to see Tom Sachs’ installation at the Park Avenue Armory (closes June 17), and if you’re into retro-future space stuff, you should definitely go. Space Program: Mars, set up as a staging area for a mission to Mars, fills the 55,000 square foot armory with everything needed to survive on that planet, including exploratory vehicles, scientific research tools, food providers, and even the landing module. I was lucky enough to go to the opening, where drinks were served in dry ice containers with astronaut themed ingredients like Tang. I really love this sort of earnest, homemade space exploration stuff, especially in art installation form, but I tried to act cool because so many awesome people were there, including David Byrne, Bill Cunningham, Michael Stipe, and Kanye West (probably not too surprising because pretty much every song of his mentions a space ship). I’ve visited the exhibit a couple of times since the opening, because as you know I like to obsess over things. Enjoy the photos and check it out by this Sunday! Oh and if you go tonight (Tuesday), it’s free! And I might be there.

On one of my visits, the astronauts were cutting a hole in the Armory floor, an extraction overseen by the artist Tom Sachs (on the left). You might notice that he has some awesome shoes, which are part of a line he did with Nike of items made from space materials. They are awesome (if predictably expensive).

Attendees to the exhibit can take an indoctrination test to get access to the module. At the opening they were only offering the oral section (there is a written as well), but when I passed I got this piece of paper stamped officially with NASA. (It helps to know the order of the planets and that science is basically magic.) Popcorn was served in module-stamped bags for the video screenings, which included things like this:

There is also a small space museum outside the main Armory area, including items like this astronaut casket (which I believe was called the “Death of Marat,” because who doesn’t like an art history joke?). I also recommend at least buying something small from the gift shop, because the bag it comes in is worth it alone. I got a space poster, so I can remember the astronauts forever.

Click here for all my photos.