This summer, the Public Art Fund is presenting two charming public art pieces by well-known European artists. Spanning from City Hall to Central Park, the two works, by Richard Woods and Franz West respectively, tread a fine line between childlike delight and. Each welcomes viewers with a warm smile that belies deeper, less facile artistic inquiries.
At New York’s City Hall Park, wall and door and roof, by the British-born Woods, features the artist’s signature naïve motif, a cartoon-like interpretation of red brick, printed across the facades of two security booths and into the hall itself where it forms a trompe l’oeil replica of one of the building’s exterior doors. Though it looks like something out of a Keystone Cops film, Woods’ piece is in fact a play on an English architectural trope. Says Woods: “The ‘British Red Brick’ motif in architecture is synonymous with mass production private housing. I liked the idea of imposing this highly democratic vernacular on a public building that is a civic symbol of democracy.”
The door is slightly more sedate. Its black-and-white printed graphic reads as symbolic representation by way of Alice in Wonderland; it is a door as a “door” — more of an idea than an entryway. Both the booths and the door read as fractured fairytales: They invite one to question the nature of the building they open up. Both display a distinct element of kitch, a recurring theme in Woods’ conceptual practice. “The motivations that underpin the works I make are varied, but kitsch is an area which consistently interests me, as it is a constantly moving territory. Socially imposed notions of good taste or bad taste are in constant flux, and these slippages fascinate me. The DIY method of my art making is purposefully meant to evoke the associations of ‘dutifully’ applying and extra coat of paint to make things better. The optimism of such an action is at the heart of the work.”
Uptown, in Central Park, one finds another ostensible stab at optimism in a new sculpture, The Ego and the Id, by Viennese artist Franz West. West has long been creating works — he calls them “Pass-stücke” or “Adaptives” — that only become art the moment the viewer physically connects with them. This demand for interaction feels more like a friendly invitation, though the Freudian implications found in the desire to touch the taboo seem to remain a constant point of entry for West. Says the artist, on his impetus for creating interactive works: “Normally an artwork is subject[ed] to the order of the fetish; [it is] an object comparable to Marx´s [theory of] goods. It is filtered by bans, which arise from common codices. I never understood [why] this would make sense, apart from [art’s] function as [an object] for the market.”
Found at the Doris C. Freedman Plaza in Central Park, West’s new 20-foot high public sculpture (which officially opens July 15th) is a brightly colored, looping abstraction. It acts as both a sculpture and a settee, with enormous, malformed appendages that appear to have been constructed with a motherlode of previously chewed Fruit Stripe gum (one loop is colored in the artist’s oft-used bubblegum pink; the other is multihued). If that description serves as an enticement for tout New York to drop anchor, well then: All the better. According to West, “New York is a very vital place. I identify myself with anyone and with anybody. I would like to sit down on the work myself, maybe out of a preserved adolescent attitude, which seems to flow slowly into a dementia senilis now.”