Monday, March 11, 2013

Alexandre Arrechea: No Limits

No Limits in New York City by Alexandre Arrechea, 2013

Since 2000 the Sculpture Committee of The Fund for Park Avenue and the Public Art Program of the City of New York’s Department of Parks & Recreation have collaborated with artists and arts organizations to install sculptures in the middle of Park Avenue. Since 2007 the exhibitions have occurred on a regular basis, twice a year. The first for 2013 is No Limits, featuring pieces by Cuban artist Alexandre Arrechea, who currently lives in Westchester County. Ten large sculptures extend from 54th to 67th Street. Each one is based on a famous building in Manhattan, many of them on or near Park Avenue.

On a Monday morning walk from 59th Street to Grand Central Terminal I was able to look at and photograph half of the sculptures. Easily the most striking of these is Sherry Netherland, seen in the first four photos. The actual building, a hotel, is located at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue overlooking Central Park. Arrechea curls the building in on itself, like a snake biting its tail or a circle that is cracked to reveal the decorative top. As with the other pieces, it's hard not to wonder what the deformation says about the building, but the playful forms can be appreciated without any intellectual investigation.
I believe the same way that a building is exposed to daily elements and changes - cold, heat, rain, fog - it is also exposed to constant changes in function - increases and decreases in market value, tenant use, and therefore purpose and social value. These persistent modifications are something I want to capture and embody in my work, creating a new model in constant negotiation with its surroundings. -Alexandre Arrechea
This quote by the artist gets to the heart of the transformations: What people usually think of as static—buildings—are actually flexible in various ways. Arrechea sculpts the scaled-down buildings in steel, a material that is seen as rigid and cold, but which is liquid and hot before its "final" formation. This choice makes perfect sense, and it lends the pieces a certain impossibility: How could a steel model of the Sherry Netherland curl like that? How does the Seagram Building get wound up like that?

Arrechea's statement about flexibility and change is fairly broad, but I think that each piece is making a statement about the particular building it references, be it about the form or something deeper. The Seagram is wound like a tape or hose as if to say that the stacked floors can be repeated almost endlessly; there is no vertical variation unlike the Sherry Netherland, for example. The Flatiron takes away the building's signature triangular plan and turns the facade into a flag or sign, a symbol of itself that borders on the two-dimensional. And if the artist's drawing at the end is any indication, both CitiGroup and Court House are kinetic; the former spins like an off-kilter top, suitable given the tower's asymmetrical top; and the latter's pendulum swing must be a metaphor for this country's legal system.

The sculptures are best seen from the sidewalks to the east and the west, as most of them are oriented to the sides. This means that views up and down the avenue from within the median are not as strong, but getting close to the pieces is also a treat; a close-up photo of Seagram shows some details not visible from afar. Many of the sculptures get lost against the backdrop of Park Avenue's skyscrapers, but I think as the trees bloom the art will stand out even more, lending some appreciation to the sculptures and the buildings they reference.