Push to bring art back to Soho park

By Ashley Winchester

In the late 1960s, artist Bob Bolles installed several of his welded works in a then-abandoned traffic triangle at the intersection of Watts and Broome Sts. The spot soon became known to locals as Bob Bolles Park, in honor of the late artist and Soho fixture who frequented the nearby Broome Street Bar.

The area, now known officially as Sunflower Park, has since been repaved and re-landscaped, but none of Bolles’ art remains. Over two years ago the Parks Department, prior to building the new park, disassembled and relocated the sculptures — all 17 of them — to Randall’s Island.

Several community members saw the sculptures’ removal as a blow to the tradition of art in Soho, and are working to restore them to their original location in the new park.

Bolles’ art was “part of the artistic heritage of this blossoming arts community which we now call Soho, when there were murals on buildings where there are now billboards,” Don MacPherson, a Community Board 2 member, said.

Following the removal of Bolles’ sculptures, MacPherson founded the Soho Arts Council, an organization dedicated to maintaining and restoring what he calls “guerilla art,” art placed on public land without official permission. Over the past two years, MacPherson has been working with attorney Lawrence B. Goldberg and other members of the community in negotiating with the Parks Department over the return of the sculptures to Sunflower Park.

Part of the initial resolution to create a park at the spot, MacPherson said, included a promise that the sculptures would remain in place.

Adrian Benepe, then Manhattan borough parks commissioner and now the city’s commissioner, in a June 2001 interview, said the Parks Department would be happy to bring back a few of the better sculptures, but that the majority were “dangerous, dilapidated, rusting, falling-apart litter magnets.” The sculptures, he said, “were placed there on an ad-hoc basis without official permission from the city.”

Kenn Reisdorff, owner of the Broome Street Bar, remembers Bolles as an artist who took pride in his sculptures and would hold periodical cleanup parties in the triangle to remove any trash that might have accumulated. After Bolles’ death the art steadily deteriorated and debris was allowed to accumulate, he said.

“It was a junk pile, a no man’s land, but it should be Bob Bolles’ Park and have a sculpture if they’re true to the area,” Reisdorff said.

Eric Adolfsen, a Parks spokesperson, said the sculptures will eventually return, but no target date has been set.

“We are working to bring back the sculptures to the community in a temporary rotating exhibition,” Adolfsen said. “We are considering the practical issues for their return to the space, and are continuing to work with the community board as we move forward with it. We are not opposed to bringing [the sculptures] back in this form, but patience is required in the process.”

George Bliss, owner of the Hub Station pedicab garage across from the triangle, believes the park itself should be torn down in favor of a plan more typical of Soho’s artistic heritage.

“People don’t come to New York to see shrubbery,” Bliss said. “That design tells people to drive by in their S.U.V.s and enjoy the pretty pink flowers on the way. It’s a highway beautification project, not a park. I’m not saying they should have kept [the triangle] the way it was, but they could have done something much more with it… Art in this setting would be a further insult to the spirit of the artist.”

Lawrence White, another Soho artist who supports restoring Bolles’ work, said an eight-ft.-tall column that Bolles was working on that was cut out with a handheld blowtorch and which is still in the neighborhood in someone’s basement could be the perfect centerpiece for the park.

MacPherson is still in negotiations with the Parks Department. Issues over ownership, insurance coverage, transportation and relocation costs have slowed the process, he said.

“My point is that there have been back-and-forth responses as to if and whether this will get done,” MacPherson said. “I will benevolently describe this as bureaucratic red tape that needs to get resolved. It’s been a zigzag effort.”

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