Downtowners deconstruct construction art


By Margarita Lopez

Walking down the street while pointing to the orange and white zebra painted traffic barriers on Broadway, one passerby couldn’t help but notice the new addition to the community. “See, now I like that,” she said.

It isn’t the jungle where artwork like this could be found, but in the Financial District where narrow streets are overwhelmed with unsightly construction barriers.

The new project installed over the weekend, “Re:Construction,” has turned three construction sites into works of art. The $100,000 project on Broadway, John and Fulton Sts. was organized and sponsored by the Downtown Alliance and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council with support from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority since the projects are near the Futon Transit Center under construction.

Interviews with a handful of people Wednesday revealed split reactions to the work.

“I think it’s much nicer than looking at dirty chipped blocks,” architect Cassandra Grasso, 22, said of “Concrete Jungle,” the orange and white zebra painted traffic barriers by painter Tattfoo Tan. “It’s an enjoyable way to make it a more aesthetically pleasing place.”

Some did not notice the new artwork and others did not like it.

“I don’t think it adds anything to the community,” said Victoria Meller, 19, a Borough of Manhattan Community College student. “I didn’t even notice it.”

On the corner of John St., the 14-foot orange and white plywood, called “Best Pedestrian Route,” by Richard Garber and Nicole Robertson of GRO Architects, is still being installed. It will create a decorative overhang past the construction. Passing by the incomplete artwork, Debbie Monte, a director, and Reuven Cohen, 50, a computer director, wondered what the work could be — art or construction.

“I wasn’t sure what it was, but it’s pretty cool,” Monte said. Despite the odd form and its letters and arrow symbols across the “Best Pedestrian Route,” Monte said that the construction takes away from the beauty of the visual art.

“I think you could appreciate it more without all of the construction in front of it,” Monte added.

But Cohen thought otherwise. “Maybe the idea behind it is that it’s supposed to look like construction,” he said.

For the Alliance and the L.M.C.C., the project is meant to enliven visual eyesores that are expected to continue Downtown for years. The groups hope to expand it to other streets.

Studying the orange and yellow-netted fence along Fulton St., Peter Leitch, 63, musician and photographer, said that he wouldn’t consider the “Fulton Fence” art. The work was done by Carlos J. Gòmez de Llarena, Mateo Pintò and Carolina Cisneros “art.”

“The danger with something like this is that people are going to think that this is real art,” Leitch said. “It negates artists like Rembrandt and Van Gogh.”

While some pedestrians loved the idea, others were confused and some just didn’t agree with the concept.

“It looks like it’s going to be trashed,” Pamela Timmins, 55, an investor, said of “Fulton Fence.” “They’re creating more trash and it looks like visual pollution.”.

Despite the criticisms, the idea of taking an ugly construction site and turning it into a visual piece of art, sits well with the owner of Coffee Klatch on Maiden Ln, Pam Chmiel, who has been pleading with officials to add art to the construction sites for some time now.

“I think it’s great that we’re focusing on beautifying streets while we live in unavoidable construction,” she said in a telephone interview.

Chmiel tried to decorate the scaffolding above her storefront by hanging Chinese lanterns over the summer. But that only became expensive, since she had to keep replacing them after they had been vandalized. With the Alliance’s new project underway, she hopes that it will last and become more visible Downtown.

“I think this is just the beginning,” Chmiel said. “If you look at the bigger picture, it’s a great start.”