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NYC's most controversial public art projects

Just one month after Long Island City's controversial proposal, the Sunbather, Madison Square Park's upcoming art installation is causing headaches.

Given that this is New York, it's hardly surprising that there have been some public art controversies over the years. From the Gates to the Tilted Arc, we take a look back at some of the most controversial projects that New Yorkers (some funded by the city while others are privately funded) have seen.

Fata Morgana, 2015

Happy spring in Madison Square Park, hope you
Photo Credit: Madison Square Park Conservancy

Happy spring in Madison Square Park, hope you like the extra shade. That's due to a "monumental outdoor sculpture project," which is expected to be unveiled on June 1. Designed by artist Teresita Fernández, the project is funded by the Madison Square Park Conservancy. Fata Morgana will consist of mirror-polished discs on six steel structures in the park, according to the Madison Square Park Conservancy. Phase I of the installation is already complete, and Phase II is under construction now. With Shake Shack already located in the park, locals are not pleased with the installation, according to DNA Info. "We have a tiny park and we want to be able to enjoy the real trees, we don’t want them to be covered up," said one park regular.

Sunbather, 2015

Proposed to be situated on a median on
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs

Proposed to be situated on a median on Jackson and 43rd Avenues, The Sunbather is designed to be a permanent art project for Long Island City, long a mecca for artists. Designed by Brooklyn-based artist Ohad Meromi, the Sunbather was first proposed as an 8 1/2 foot pink structure, although the Department of Cultural Affairs says the design has yet to be finalized. But the community did not react warmly when the sculpture was first introduced. The backlash was so intense that Jimmy Van Bramer, the councilman who represents the area, organized a public forum on March 18th to discuss the project. In fact, Van Bramer introduced a bill on Tuesday that would require all public art projects to undergo a public hearing on art commission.

A Subtlety, 2014

Kara Walker created this sugar sphinx at the
Photo Credit: Flickr / shawnhoke

Kara Walker created this sugar sphinx at the abandoned Domino Sugar Factory. Presented by Creative Time, Walker titled her piece A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby: A Homage to the underpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined Sweet tastes from cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant. The installation drew thousands of visitors in the final days of the factory, but many complained that it did not really capture the history of Brooklyn-- especially the 19th century factory. "In the meantime, I cannot help wondering about the "subtlety" of inviting an African American artist to highlight the historic past of labor exploitation in the sugar trade before erasing one of its monuments and replacing it with a monument to gentrification," wrote Filip Noterdaeme in the Huffington Post.

Kips Bay Bike Rack, 2013

The east side of the FDR Drive in
Photo Credit: Google

The east side of the FDR Drive in Kips Bay makes excellent use of the phrase "concrete jungle." But there is a break in the concrete: A bright pink bicycle rack stretching for blocks, installed by the Department of Transportation in 2013. Some residents told DNA Info that the mural was "too much pink" when it debuted.

Harvest Dome, 2011 & 2013

Made out of recycled umbrella frames and soda
Photo Credit: Flickr / huntergather

Made out of recycled umbrella frames and soda bottles, the Harvest Dome made its debut in 2011 on the East River. But it failed to reach its destination of Inwood Hill Park, instead drifting over to Rikers Island, where Department of Corrections personnel destroyed it. Two years later, the Harvest Dome returned after architects Amanda Schacter and Alexander Levi raised $7,200 for the project on Kickstarter. This time, the dome left from Brooklyn Navy Yards via two tugboats.

New York City Waterfalls, 2008

The most high-profile public art project after The
Photo Credit: Flickr / 40351463@N00

The most high-profile public art project after The Gates, New York City Waterfalls were four man-made waterfalls on the East River. Designed by Olafur Eliasson, Waterfalls ran from June 26, 2008 until October 13, 2008. While many praised the project (especially since none of its funding came from the city), others criticized it for spraying salt water on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Since 2008 was pre-Instagram, it's hard to grasp how important it was.

The Gates, 2005

The art project The Gates was first proposed
Photo Credit: Newsday / ARI MINTZ

The art project The Gates was first proposed by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude in 1979, and it officially began construction in Central Park in 2005. With a reported price tag of $21 million (the project was funded through private organizations, not the city, so the exact cost is not known), The Gates was a massive undertaking that used more than 1 million square feet of nylon and 5,300 tons of steel over 23 miles of Central Park. And all of it orange. While it ended up being massively popular in its 16-day run, it was also a frequent punchline.

Tilted Arc, 1981-89

Perhaps the most infamous public art project of
Photo Credit: Newsday / Daniel Sheehan

Perhaps the most infamous public art project of all time, Tilted Arc was unveiled at 26 Federal Plaza in 1981--and was almost instantly reviled. Downtown Manhattan commuters felt the huge giant sculpture blocked the paths and disrupted their commutes. The architect of Tilted Arc, Richard Serra, wanted a "sculpture that the body could trust, and he wanted a sculpture that provoked relentless consciousness of the streets, office buildings and courts around it," according to The New York Times. Since it was so publicly hated, the United States General Service Administration held an open hearing in 1985, where many famous artists testified on its behalf. But the GSA determined that it be removed anyway, and the city was rid of it by the beginning of 1989. It didn't seem like many were shedding any tears: The Wall Street Journal's headline on its editorial was "Good Riddance!"


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