New York

“Art on the Beach”

Hunters Point, Queens

After years on the great, sandy landfill site on the Hudson River just north of Battery Park City, in Manhattan, Creative Time has moved “Art on the Beach” to a new landfill site in Queens, on the East River in Long Island City, thus joining P.S. 1, Socrates Sculpture Park, and other art organizations that have made their homes in the borough of Queens. Tucked behind a defunct Daily News printing facility, this left-over, neglected parcel rises to a small knoll covered with scrubby bushes and tall grasses. Although the new location provides a view of the Manhattan skyline (a vigorously promoted amenity), the site is a rough, somewhat stingy space.

Site designers Tod Williams, Billie Tsien, and Jackie Ferrara fenced off six acres and created an encampment of small plots flanking a central path. Each of this summer’s nine projects occupied one of these plots, which were demarcated on both sides of the path by low “walls” made of cement castings from a neighboring factory and arranged in parallel rows. In addition to dividing and organizing the site, the cement slabs were used to create an entrance to the site, stacked into three paleolithic-looking configurations (which, for reasons of safety, were dismantled after only a week by order of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which donated the site). This simple approach to site management will age well, especially as some of the natural vegetation replenishes itself.

The nine projects this year were created by collaborative teams of architects, visual artists, and performance artists working together from the start. Presumably this was to enhance the potential for the artists and performers, judging from the resulting projects, which indicated an emphasis on events and environments rather than on objects in the landscape.

Architect Anthony Tsirantonakis and choreographer Tamar Rogoff created a rather elegant and memorable setting for both the audience and the performers. A modular arrangement of four red walls punctured with viewing holes filled with transparencies of figurative images (by Candy Spilner) led to a small circular stage within a circular “arena” of sand. A wooden scaffold above and just in front of the red walls created a proscenium for the stage and a framework of raised platforms for the performers. Low stone walls around the perimeter of the arena defined the performance area and served as seating for the audience. Across the path from this project, architects Annie Chu and Rick Gooding and visual/performance artist Perry Hoberman created a thick, slightly sloping “wall” in which were set three “windows” framed by visorlike metal canopies, with views of Manhattan’s skyline. When viewers stepped up on a three-stair plywood stoop, pushed a button, and looked through a window, they saw an image superimposed on the urban skyline. At the middle window, a button activated a hallucinatory image of a water glass whose contents appeared to defy gravity.

Taking site specificity to new thresholds of literalness, a team from Boston, consisting of visual artists Jerry Beck and Jeff DeCastro, architect Eric Gould, performance artists Tamara Jenkins, and others constructed a wood-frame lean-to completely covered with newsprint and oriented to face the enormous sign on the nearby Daily News building. “Editorial columns” by other Boston artists—kiosklike columns based on newspaper themes such as sports or obituaries—were situated inside and around the structure. On the plot closest to the entrance, architect Cameron McNall and visual artist Julia Heyward collaborated on a 24-foot-high sweeping form that resembled billboard scaffolding. Like many billboards, the two sides of this structure sent out different messages. One side supported abstract sculptural fragments and the other was covered with a series of taut nylon scrims that formed a continuous screen. When midafternoon sunlight illuminated the scrims, the sculptural elements created ghostly, quixotic shadow images through the translucent surfaces. During performances, Heyward projected multimedia film images that interacted with these shadow images.

The nine projects seem crowded on the site. Each project appears to encroach on its neighbor’s domain, creating a visual cacophony. This sense of density—which is our urban reality, after all—could have been optimized rather than just tolerated, and perhaps it will be in subsequent years. Putting nine projects on this small site suggests the urgent reality of the need to support a community of young artists in a time of diminishing possibilities. The relocation and reconstitution of “Art on the Beach” should make artists and critics alike think afresh about art production and public art in cities.

Patricia C. Phillips