What’s art and what’s not on the High Line

Previously, from Andrea K. Scott, “Parklife: Playing hide-and-seek at a sculpture show on the High Line”, New Yorker of 6/9&16/14, ending with an appreciation of conceptual artist Josh Kline. Now, the lead-in:

“Honey, I twisted through more damn traffic today,” reads the new white-on-pink mural by Ed Ruscha, above the High Line at Twenty-second Street. On a recent afternoon, the text doubled as a caption for a live-action cartoon, as a man on a scooter wove his way through a gaggle of tourists. Nearby, teen-agers held up handwritten signs advertising free hugs and yelled, “It’s emotional Tuesday!” Performance art? No, students from the neighborhood’s Fashion Industries high school, blowing off steam.

It can be hard to distinguish what’s art and what’s not on the High Line. “Archeo,” a new exhibition of eight outdoor sculptures by seven young artists, organized by the park’s nimble curator, Cecilia Alemani, plays to the idea of the High Line as a latter-day Readymade. Marcel Duchamp turned his bicycle wheel, snow shovel, and bottle rack into art with scant alteration. But the former elevated railway, once overgrown and abandoned, is now so groomed and urban-chic that it’s a ready-made backdrop for Instagram.

Continuing with details:

The site’s history surfaces in one of the show’s strongest works: Marianne Vitale’s “Common Crossings,” five salvaged railroad switches (they allow trains to change tracks), installed vertically. Below Twenty-fifth Street, the steel totems stand sentry, strange hybrids of Richard Serra and Easter Island. A few blocks south, in another twist on the Readymade, Yngve Holen sets down a pair of gleaming industrial washing-machine drums in a glib piece, titled “Sensitive 4 Detergent,” that does little more than turn a patch of the High Line into a hillbilly front yard.

“Plop art” is a derogatory term for public sculpture, coined in the late nineteen-sixties to describe inert minimalism in corporate plazas. In “Archeo,” Isabelle Cornaro is guilty of plopping. Her “God Boxes,” above Gansevoort Street, are black monoliths embellished with casts of stars and twisted rope — the effect is Louise Nevelson lite. Gavin Kenyon’s gray, fur-flecked blob on a polychrome base, at Thirtieth Street, is ironically titled “Realism Marching Triumphantly Into the City,” and seems aimed at deflating the grandiosity of classical monuments. A bull’s-eye it’s not.

Scott, not unreasonably, takes Marcel Duchamp to be the instigator of what has brought us, eventually, to conceptual art of the High Line sort. A hundred years from his bottle rack to Kline’s Skittles.

2 Responses to “What’s art and what’s not on the High Line”

  1. But is it art? More Jeff Koons | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] A blog mostly about language « What’s art and what’s not on the High Line […]

  2. But is it art? At MoMA | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] more shot at this topic, after the High Line and the Whitney: a piece in the July/August 2014 Atlantic: “The Most Modern Curator: Why […]

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