New York

David Finn

City Hall Park

Through the sponsorship of the Public Art Fund, Inc., sculptor David Finn has proposed five installations for outdoor public sites in New York City. Two of these proposals have been realized. The first, installed throughout the summer of 1985 on a small corner lot on the Lower East Side, was a gloomy street drama of constructed figures placed in either predatory or passive poses both within and outside the cyclone-fenced site. This was followed by Finn’s second and most recent installation, People in Trees, 1985, in City Hall Park. Whereas the earlier project converged with the angst of the setting, creating a tense ambiguity between willful intervention and natural processes of degradation and death, the City Hall Park installation was an invasion into a region of contradictory iconography that set up a new range of psychological conditions. Clearly, Finn understands the interplay of site and creative action and the dissimilar readings that may result.

Finn’s inspiration and his medium originate in the ravaged, garbage-filled neighborhoods of the Lower East Side. His figurative constructions and compositions are three-dimensional collages of scavenged objects—bedsprings, beer cans, rags, wire. The artist straps this refuse together to create forms of human proportion, posture, and dimension. These ragged assemblages are disconcertingly lifelike; they confront the acquired indifference that many feel toward the homeless, the street dwellers whose numbers increase almost daily. Yet Finn’s figures are pushed beyond direct social commentary through their composition and the theatrical device of the mask. He constructs large, boxy cardboard heads that share animal and human characteristics. These wide-eyed mutants stare dumbly, yet are inquisitive and sinister. Similarly, the figures appear complacently observant yet poised to lunge, not knowing whether to retreat or intervene. It is anyone’s guess what they might mean or do to each other.

For the City Hall Park installation, Finn placed ten constructed figures with masks of painted sheet metal in the trees in the southern triangle of this public space. As the leaves dropped from the trees in autumn the somewhat camouflaged constructions became progressively more visible. Earlier in the season the figures had appeared to be hidden or lurking; in late November they seemed openly menacing, spying and plotting from their elevated positions. The difference between Finn’s earlier installation and this one was the location of psychological tension. Tension was registered in the complex and ambiguous relationships between the constructed characters in the earlier installation; the viewer was like a member of the audience in a proscenium theater. In City Hall Park the pedestrian/viewer, through movement in the open space, was actively engaged in a set of somewhat questionable circumstances. Psychological distance was substantially diminished.

In Finn’s work artifice is discernible, but the narrative content is frequently baffling and suspenseful. His figures’ skins and entrails of garbage, and their compositional arrangements, convey unease with our commodities-based society The power—and the great irony—of his work is that it can generate response more precociously than those people on the street who may have been its inspiration.

Patricia C. Phillips