Public Sculpture in New York is Upscaling Manhattan Even More

July 14, 2016

In recent years, the public sculpture has increasingly begun to expand in scope and application, challenging both the range of what is considered public art and its artform. This is especially true for the richest area of New York, the Manhattan, where the marriage between buildings and sculpture is celebrated and at the same time frowned upon by some of the leading sculpture artists of our time, such as Richard Serra. In the most recent article ‘ Real Estate for the 1 Percent, With Art for the Masses” published online by The New York Times, commenting on the difference between art and architecture, Serra described most of the public sculpture in urban settings as ‘ displaced, homeless, overblown objects that say,’ We represent modern art”. How are we to understand this statement and what conclusion should we come to in regards to the role of the public sculpture today, and its relationship with the richest setting of the world? For whom is the public art created and why?

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Left: Jeff-Koons - Public Sculpture, Astror Place, New York / Right:Jeff Koons - Balloon Bunny, detail. Images via

The Relationship Between Art and Architecture

The author of the above-mentioned article, Randy Kennedy, pinpointed spots in New York and visited the public spaces of private buildings that hold some of the most expensive pieces of public sculpture created by some of the most celebrated contemporary artists today, such as Anish Kapoor, Jeff Koons, Bruce Nauman, and Yayoi Kusama. The landscape of the city is changed by the works, leading to what soon will become almost a walkable itinerary of what is considered as a most serious form of art, the author notes in his article. But, the focus, of course, is not just on the creation of a grand scale open space of museum pieces, but also in the unavoidable aspect of wealth and prestige. Simon Elias, a developer of the Herzog & de Meuron tower, said that the business calculus behind adding a work of art had become more complex in recent years. The choice of the art is not imperatively governed by the must have A-list pieces, but the decision to place a work of art inside the building’s lobby or outside it, for sure makes the already distinctive building and enduring and profitable one. This value system ruled by the commercial and competitive aspect of our society is focused on global wealth. The main players, in this case, the luxury developers use the famous names for the goal of reaching that wealth and paradoxically create difficulty for artists to live and work in the city.

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A rendering of an Anish Kapoor sculpture planned for 56 Leonard Street in TriBeCa.Image via

The Public Sculptures of Manhattan

Art and architecture are often seen as very different things. Today, what is seen as a trend is the attempt by some of the leading architects to unite the idea of the public and private art. This desire shifts the original agenda of public art as accessible and visible by all and is the case today in Manhattan, as referenced in the title of the article. Most of us reading this, and me writing this, for sure do not belong to that mentioned one percent of the population. The public sculptures that decorate some of the mesmerizing examples of architecture today are a paradox in the original idea that art is created for the masses. But, this should not surprise any of us, since the consumerism and competition seem to rule the moves in art production.

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Deborah Kass - OYYO. Image via vulture

Is it a Bad Marriage?

To what conclusion do we arrive at then? That one percent is for most of us out of reach that is for sure, but has this race also influenced the quality of the produced pieces? Serra explained that to him sculptures seem awkwardly placed and to an extent lonely. Are we to understand them as  symbols of the state of the world today that asks for a quick fix ?

All images used for illustrative purposes only. Featured image: Yayoi Kusama - Pumpkin. Image via www.

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