Until 1986, the site of the Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, Queens, was an illegal riverside landfill, abandoned and ugly. A group of local artists got together and decided to turn the area into a park and outdoor museum.
In the summer, Socrates hosts a free outdoor cinema featuring international films and sometimes live music. All are invited to bring a picnic and a blanket, and watch the film starting at dusk. Also throughout the summer, Socrates offers sculpture and art classes for all ages, tai chi and yoga on Saturday mornings until September 30 (all which are also free).
The park foundation awards several artists a residency each year. They may work on site, and have the opportunity to display extremely large scale work, the only location like it in New York. The sculptures change about every 6 months. Visitors are invited to look, play, climb, learn, photograph and let their dogs run around the sculptures and park.
The stats aside, the park is totally amazing. Not only is it an actual grassy space with trees, but it has a breathtaking view of the Manhattan skyline and East River. There are a few meandering paths and river overlooks that SOME people might deem “romantic” (yes, there are stupid kissing couples everywhere). A walk through the park really creates a sense of detachment from the hustle and bustle of New York. The sea smells like the sea, the trees are thick in areas and private, the space is open and lush. How can this be New York?
The park is also site of three controversial “politically correct ghetto kids” sculptures by John Ahearn. In 1989, Ahearn, a South Bronx resident, was commissioned to make three sculptures that would sit in front of the police station. Ahearn cast real residents, a junkie, a hustler and a street kid, all of whom were black. The public found the sculptures offensive, and accused Ahearn of being a racist. They were removed, but are now permanently on view near the park’s workshops, having weathered badly with age. Side note- John Ahearn is the twin of “Wildstyle” director Charlie Ahearn.
Who: John Ahearn
What: Socrates Sculpture Park
Where: 3205 Vernon Boulevard, 11106, Queens
Sculptor and designer for coins for the US Mint, Augustus Saint Gaudens studied at Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design. He began casting bronze for Civil War memorials, and his realism gained him success. His most famous piece may be Diana, who stands on one foot and pulls back a bow and arrow (which is at the Met, with copies in other cities as well.) He also started a summer artist colony in rural New Hampshire which was visited by Maxfield Parrish.
This sculpture of William Tecumseh Sherman atop a horse and led by Nike is bronze with a real gold leaf surface, and was moved closer to Central Park when the plaza was constructed. It is a beautiful corner, which is really evocative of Olmstead’s original vision for the area and Central Park.
Who: Augustus Saint Gaudens
What: sculpture of William Tecumseh Sherman
Where: 60th Street and 5th Avenue
Doug and Mike Starns’ Big Bambu on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art has been the talk of this past Summer of 2010. The piece closed on Halloween, but art lovers can experience a permanent Starns installation, in MTA’s South Ferry Subway station on the 1 line. Inspired by an 1886 topography map of New York, this site specific mosaic greets subway riders with a giant map of Manhattan, in addition to marbled trees and branches from their Structures of Thought series.
The mosaic itself is an innovative fused –glass technique and is based on trees in Battery Park. I particularly love the lace-cut metal screen that acts as a fence between the walking passage and entrance to the trains. There is a lot of MTA commissioned art in subway stations, but most of it functions more as design. The Starns pieces are one of the few examples of an installation that holds up on its own.
Who: Doug and Mike Starns
What: See it Split, See it Change mosaic installtion
Where: South Ferry Subway Station, Whitehall and Pearl Streets
Russian born Louise Nevelson began her shallow relief sculptures in the 1930s. She moved from studying in New York to Munich to assist Diego Rivera, before returning to teach art on the Lower East Side. Louise Nevelson Plaza on Maiden Lane is the first public place to be named after an artist in New York, a feat for a female artist. Several Cor-Ten sculptures can be seen in this park.
Who: Louise Nevelson
What: Louise Nevelson Park
Where: Maiden Lane and William Street
Fernando Botero is known for his luscious curvaceous figures in sculpture and painting, some just refer to it as “fat.” Trained as a matador and set designer, Botero has declared himself the “most Colombian of Colombian artists,” and has flourished since he moved to Spain in the 1950s.
His large and in charge bronzes are scattered in public spots around the globe (a large collection is on Museum Island in Berlin), and here in New York, tow of them greet shoppers at each escalator at the mall like Time Warner Center. Named Adam and Eve, they tower over visitors at twelve feet tall. Eve may be a little jealous, as attention seems to focus on Adam- and his penis. And the desire to, touch it…The public’s fondling of his nether region is not only a prime photo op, but has also left the patina shiny and gold. How’s that for gold member.
Probably the only time anyone will say that Botero’s sculptures are groin-grabbingly good.
Who: Fernando Botero
What: Adam & Eve sculptures
Where: Time Warner Center, 10 Columbus Circle
The statue on the top of this building is not hailing a cab from the roof, but has actually hailed from Mother Russia. The giant Lenin was originally a state commissioned work, which was hidden after the Soviet Union’s demise and found in a backyard of a dacha outside of Moscow. Sitting atop a luxury high rise called “Red Square”, developers purchased the statue to poke fun at the name, and also because they claim the LES is home of the socialist movement. They even created a postcard that said “Greetings From Red Square,” with Lenin’s arm raised proudly toward the downtown skyline.
Who: Yuri Gerasimov
What: Lenin Statue
Where: 250 East Houston Street.
The late Doris C. Freedman was a friend of the arts, she was Director of Cultural Affairs for New York City, President of City Walls, the Municipal Art Society AND the Pubic Art Fund. She fought to legalize residency of Soho artist lofts, and helped introduced the percent for art legislation, which requires large scale development projects to dedicate 1% of their funding to public art. Situated on the South East corner of Central Park, this plaza is dedicated to her, and is funded by the New York Public Art Fund. It hosts rotating (about once a year) large scale sculptures and installations- pretty amazing ones too such as Wim Delvoye, James Yamada, Sarah Lucas, Franz West and Juan Munoz.
What: Doris C. Freedman Plaza (public art venue)
Where: 59th Street and Central Park South