Thursday, October 13, 2011

...about public art: the High Line

Each day this week, I'm looking at my list of top public artworks, and the traits they share that make them great.

Subtlety: The High Line • New York, NY • Architects: James Corner Field Operations; Diller Scofidio + Renfro

Okay, it’s not technically public art (it’s a park), but it certainly blurs the line. And what a lovely, linear blur. In perhaps the best-case example of silk purse from sow’s ear, this elevated park was gracefully shaped from remnants of Manhattan’s past reliance on a hard-working (and not-so-pretty) inner city rail system, still standing in part on the city’s western edge. James Corner Field Operations, a landscape architecture firm, and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, an architecture firm, took this stretch of derelict elevated tracks and created one of the country’s most magical and enticing public parks. The diverse experience of these creative teams helped craft a trail of poetic urban moments that manages to escape the city and perfectly frame it. Paths wind, art is masterfully integrated, the city is both star and supporting player. The neighborhoods at its feet now rise to its meandering occasion.

It succeeds because it is so wonderfully understated, so underdone, repeating humble materials, honoring the urban and natural history with rusting rail remnants and (saved and replanted) wildflowers sprouted decades ago from seeds dropped here by wind and bird. In a city that usually shouts for attention, the High Line is a tremendously compelling quiet conversation.

Why does it work itself into this personal list of public art? It is, perhaps, in its collective entirety, the vey best example of “found art,” where a cast-off is framed or placed on a pedestal to be made museum-worthy. It also has an ongoing and ambitious program to integrate public art into it, (also, subtle and site-specific, like the nearly invisible “The River That Flows Both Ways” by Spencer Finch) in ways that again are understated, and on a remarkably personal scale for a city that loves the grand gesture.

You can follow the HighLine on Facebook.

All photos:

Earlier post: Interactivity: Cloud Gate.

Tomorrow: Community: WaterFire

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