Breaking down art’s walls by building some


The newest walls north of Wall St. belie the Robert Frost quote,

“ Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” as these walls are art and intended to be loved or at least looked at with relish.

The art is part of LentSpace, a new public/private space that opened this week at the confluence of Canal, Varick and Grand Sts. You will have read all the particulars; 37,000 square feet; open from dawn to dusk; conceived by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council on space donated by Trinity Church while the giant lot awaits development in a new economic climate.

What you may not have read about is the energy that was evinced on the day it opened last week as locals, tourists and V.I.P.’s poured and meandered into the new space. The site was curated by Adam Kleinman whose knowledge and vision bubbles forth in a torrent which the listener often feels must be captured in a bucket, so that the wealth can be dipped into for artistic rejuvenation. Public art is often misunderstood and engenders comments like: “ I love it; but I don’t understand it” or “I don’t get it, what a waste of space, where is the building?” or “How inspirational that this is here!” But Kleinman makes the hows, vision and back stories fascinating.

All reactions to public art are valid according to Kleinman and I concur; my experimentalist way of thinking sees public art as all about shaking up the quotidian and allowing urban warriors a way to unplug or detach from their daily routines. And what better way than to wander into the newest park Downtown at lunch or twilight and let the art, unseen geometry, and greenery wash over you.

According to Maggie Boepple, president of L.M.C.C., and one of the driving forces behind the project, “The art is what you want it to be. Yes the artist had clear ideas in creating the works and certainly, Adam, the curator has deeply held theories about the placement of the art, but once you are here the experience belongs to you. It is a public space.” And it is. . . sort of, you see it is privately owned, by Trinity Church, but it is on loan for a public project.

This inside outside conundrum was the inspiration for most of the seven sculptures on the site. The most easily seen connector, for me, was the permanent work called “Canal/Varick” by Tobias Putrih. The artist took the existing chain link fence, which surrounds the private property and continued pieces of it inside the space. I felt it created a kind of urban labyrinth, a place to walk and mediate on life, the jasmine climbing the fence, or the other pieces the fence delineates and defines. Curator Kleinman is more precise “ This piece acts as both a frame and a mirror. It is art and it is a reflection of the industrial structure.” It will also provide a sturdy screen on which to project out door movies.

Another piece is a low wall constructed of stacked aluminum bricks in an open pattern by Corban Walker. The “Wall” is only 36’’ high and thus could be stepped over by average adults, however Walker is 4 feet tall and thus the wall was set to his scale. It can be seen and understood as an object unto itself or when seated on the wooden benches that abound, instantly the wall transforms to eye level.

The space is filled with a collection of wooden containers filled with trees, lavender scrubs and flowering vines. These also delineate the space and create a sense of what we all think of as park, but again there is the duality as the trees are being grown and nurtured to take their place on local city streets when their usefulness as art is accomplished. I love this as again it reflects back on the notion that when creating or enjoying public spaces and art, nothing is superfluous and at the same time the viewer does not have to be in possession of the full valence intended by artists, designers or curators.

Art does shake our core, brighten our day and unlock us from the mad pace, rushing to and fro like caged beasts. Funny that a trip inside a park, a sculptural garden enclosed in chain link fence is a balm to that sort of caged entrapment, but I suppose that too was carefully crafted for the unsuspecting viewer to experience. The overarching result for all of us Downtown is a greater access to sky, to visions and an altering of preconceived perspective. And all through Public Art.