Times Square Public Art
Times Square Public Art
Times Square Public Art
Times Square Public Art
Times Square Public Art

Times Square Public Art

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Messages To The Public - Public Art Fund, 1982

“Messages to the Public” formed a key part of the Public Art Fund’s long-term commitment to media-based artworks. Running from 1982 to 1990, the show featured a series of artists’ projects created specifically for the Spectacolor board at Times Square.“‘I picked that title,’ she said of Messages to the Public, ‘because I thought the propaganda potential from this project was terrific.’ The board, she noted, was regularly used for ‘commercial propaganda.’

Regardless of medium or message, Martha Rosler's biggest contribution to the art world lies in her ability to present imagery that spotlights the veil between facade and reality, comfort and discomfort, and the myriad ways we keep our eyes wide shut or wide open. One of the artist’s first concerns in the project was to revise the definition of homelessness as restricted to those visible on the streets. For it is not only these people who are homeless, so are all those living in “shelters” or staying with relatives or friends.

Times Square Show - Colab, 1980

Expanding way beyond the group that made up Colab's core, the Times Square month-long show produced in collaboration with Bronx-based Fashion Moda, brought together hundreds of artists from around the city and received unprecedented press coverage. The accessible and populist tone of the exhibition with its performances and party atmosphere stood in sharp contrast to commercial art galleries.

With this playful experimentation that the Times Square Show was, artists sought to democratize art by bringing it to New York’s less desirable areas. The absolute crossroads and central to everyone, the Times Square gave artists and other younger people almost free-reign to create and curate as they pleased.

Showcasing the work of over 100 up and coming artists who came from various backgrounds, this exhibition reflected the intense giddy energy in New York at that moment. In addition to experimental painting and sculpture, it featured music, fashion, and an ambitious program of performance and video on view.

Max Neuhaus - Times Square, 1977

Neuhaus was known for his interpretations of experimental percussion music. He gave performances of pieces by composers such as John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen & Pierre Boulez in numerous music halls, including a 1964 performance in Carnegie Hall. In 1968, he pursued a career as a contemporary artist by developing sound installations of electronic sounds which would emanate from a source within a particular space or location. Neuhaus's “Times Square” sound installation is meant to be stumbled upon by visitors to the chaotic crossroads in Manhattan

“Times Square” was built in 1977 beneath a grate on a traffic island in Manhattan where pedestrians would be "enveloped by a deeply resonant and mildly undulating drone, its tone suggestive of low-pitched chimes or church bells."

“The Neuhaus piece was actually never turned off.

Other sculptural works included penny whistles heard underwater in swimming pools, electronic sounds within an arboretum and the modified sounds of listeners whistling tunes over public radio.

Wrapped building - Christo and Jeanne-Claude, 1968

In February 1964, Christo and Jeanne-Claude arrived in New York on board of the SS France. Shortly after seeing the tall buildings of downtown Manhattan from the bow of the ship, Christo did the first collages of Two Lower Manhattan Wrapped Buildings, No. 2 Broadway and No. 20 Exchange Place. Later, when Christo and Jeanne-Claude met with the owners to request permission to realize the project, the answers were negative.

In early 1968, friend and art collector John Powers introduced Christo and Jeanne-Claude to the chairman of the board of Allied Chemical Corporation, hoping to get permission to wrap the Allied Chemical Tower, No. 1 Times Square in Manhattan, the former headquarters of The New York Times. After a few weeks of negotiations, the board refused to allow the artists to wrap the building.

Everybody - Kalman & Stowell, 1993

Titled ''Everybody,'' the project, designed with Scott Stowell, crystallized Tibor's aspirations for the revamped Crossroads of the World: socially inclusive, focused on the street, Surrealist in spirit. The major element was a large billboard, mounted just above sidewalk level. The word ''Everybody'' was spelled out in black letters against a background of school-bus yellow. Attached to the billboard was a small assortment of funky chairs. These could be reached by climbing a set of ziggurat-shaped bleachers. When seated, you gazed out on the Midtown circus with your feet dangling in air.

The project revolved, if just intuitively, around Surrealism's two intellectual poles: Freudian dream space (the slight elevation above street level evokes the loss of gravity, the low-altitude flight of dreaming hysterics), and Marxian social justice (the place serves the people, not the other way around). The school-bus yellow was itself a major component of the sign: Tibor's was largely an educational sensibility. He loved to absorb and to share.

“Media, by altering the environment, evoke in us unique ratios of sense perceptions. The extension of any one sense alters the way we think and act - the way we perceive the world.” - Marshall McLuhan

This quote from Marshall McLuhan, one of the formative minds in the study of media ecology, sets the stage for an assessment of Times Square in the evolution of media. Indeed, there may be no better physical place to explore media ecology than here. This rather tiny district eight city blocks long and three blocks wide serves the ongoing role of media incubator and showplace of modern technologies for over 100 years; media mashed together evolving on top of each other, often cross-pollinating and scuffling simultaneously/sense ratios changing constantly and developing rapidly from the density of traffic and light/one media fish getting swallowed by another only to escape and bite the fish that just attacked it in an attempt to survive. Long before the television and then the internet began mashing all media together in the box on our desk or the phone in our hand, Times Square has been serving as the living, breathing interactive medium for decades. 

Times Square Crawl - Pope.L, 1978

This street performance was Pope.L’s first Crawl, a practice that would become a hallmark of his career over the next four decades. In Times Square Crawl, Pope.L lowered himself to his hands and knees and traversed a run-down stretch of West Forty-Second Street then known as the Deuce. Before a massive redevelopment project in the 1990s transformed Times Square into an epicenter of tourism and commerce, the area was notorious for its adult entertainment industry, drug trade, and homeless encampments.

Dressed in a business suit with a yellow square sewn to the back, Pope.L drew curious stares from pedestrians. By “giving up verticality,” the artist insisted on the visibility and value of homeless people, who have counted among their number members of his own family. His professional attire served to underscore the deep rift between aspirations of upward mobility and the absence of opportunity for many dispossessed communities in America.

Broadway Boogie Woogie - Piet Mondrian, 1943

Mondrian arrived in New York in 1940, one of the many European artists who moved to the United States to escape World War II. He immediately fell in love with the city and with boogie-woogie music, to which he was introduced on his first evening in New York. Soon he began, as he said, to put a little boogie-woogie into his paintings.

Mondrian’s aesthetic doctrine of Neo-Plasticism restricted the painter to the most basic kinds of line—that is, to straight horizontals and verticals—and to a similarly limited color range, the primary triad of red, yellow, and blue plus white, black, and the grays in between. But Broadway Boogie Woogie omits black and breaks Mondrian’s once uniform bars of color into multicolored segments. Bouncing against each other, these tiny, blinking blocks of color create a vital and pulsing rhythm, an optical vibration that jumps from intersection to intersection like traffic on the streets of New York. At the same time, the picture is carefully calibrated, its colors interspersed with gray and white blocks.

Mondrian’s appreciation of boogie-woogie may have sprung partly from the fact that he saw its goals as analogous to his own: “destruction of melody which is the destruction of natural appearance; and construction through the continuous opposition of pure means— dynamic rhythm.”

The Big Apple - Venturi, Rauch & Scott Brown, 1984

VRSB called their project "The Big Apple" and asserted that it provided "an appropriate counterpoint to the bulk and angularity of the surrounding buildings." The design not only complemented the architecture of the proposed office complex but also drew on the nostalgic character of the square. Paul Goldberger wrote in The New York Times that, "the genius of ["The Big Apple"] lies in its ability to manipulate proportion and the element of surprise in such a way as to make us think of the apple as a monumental object, not as a common piece of fruit." 

VSRB saw their design's "Contrasts and ambiguities in scale along with unusual juxtapositions [as] traditional means of creating surprise, tension and richness in urban architecture." The sculpture, sitting atop a classical base, would have added whimsy to the square in contrast to the skyscrapers and would provide a focal point for the intersection. Times Square is one big, incredible machine that has the sweet caress of capitalism to thank for its success as much as it does careful city planning. However, when the area was famously filthy in 1984, New York City contemplated a major intervention that would've changed the landscape of Midtown profoundly. The intervention itself never quite panned out, but the proposed designs for a Times Square sure did say a lot about the state of architecture at the time.