art featured

Art on Park Avenue

art featured

It’s summer. Take a lunchtime walk. If you’ve got kids, bring them with you. Or invite friends to stroll up Park Avenue between 52nd and 60th Streets where you can feast your eyes on two, museum-level outdoor exhibitions that happen to be great fun – and free.

Residing on the Seagram Building Plaza are four colored aluminum pieces (courtesy of the Gagosian Gallery), by one of my favorite artists. John Chamberlain, who died last year, is a sculptor renowned for his crushed auto metal work. Here, taking a holiday from metal, he revealed his skill in a  different medium, but with equally playful and powerful effect.

John Chamberlain – Colored Aluminum

John Chamberlain – Colored Aluminum

John Chamberlain – Colored Aluminum

John Chamberlain – Colored Aluminum

Then head up Park to view nine mosaic sculptures by Niki de Saint Phalle (courtesy of the city’s Parks Committee, the Niki Charitable Arts Foundation and Nohra Haime Gallery) planted on the Avenue’s median. Her enormous figures – some 16’ feet tall — covered in ceramic tiles, stones, glass and glass pebbles, range from her signature, massive female forms – Nanas — to American black heroes, including Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong.

Saint Phalle, a rebellious beauty from a wealthy French-American family, started out in life as a model and wound up exploring and playing with images of the female form as a self-taught artist. Educated in the U.S., she lived most of her life in France where in the early 1960s she joined a generation of experimental artists, from Christo to Jean Tanguely, who participated in outdoor “happenings,” and took art in new directions. She died ten years ago, an internationally acclaimed artist, whose work is frequently found in public spaces throughout the U.S. and Europe.

Niki de Saint Phalle – Nana on a Dolphin

Niki de Saint Phalle - Nana on a Dolphin (detail)

Niki de Saint Phalle – The Three Graces

Niki de Saint Phalle – The Three Graces (detail)

Niki de Saint Phalle - The Three Graces (detail)

Niki de Saint Phalle - The Three Graces (detail)

Niki de Saint Phalle – The Three Graces (detail)

Niki de Saint Phalle – Les Baigneurs (The Bathers)

Niki de Saint Phalle - Les Baigneurs (The Bathers)

Nothing is more joyful than Saint Phalle’s women. Her colorful, cartoon-proportioned figures seem to dance with abandon in the middle of Park Avenue’s staid, building canyon. They seem to say, “Come out and play,” to the grey buildings and their inhabitants. Each woman, whether a “Nana” or part of “The Three Graces” or one of “Les Baigneurs,” looks great from a distance and close up.  Different angles provide totally different gestures and perspectives. It’s worth spending a bit of time moving around them to absorb the amusing details of Saint Phalle’s ceramic art as well as to fully appreciate their humor and exaggerated sensual forms.

Niki de Saint Phalle - Grand Step Totem

Niki de Saint Phalle - Grand Step Totem (detail)

Grand Step Totem, on 54th Street, a massive stone and ceramic piece, shows a different side of Saint Phalle. Uncharacteristically solemn in subject and form, it is evidence of her power and breadth as an artist.

Niki de Saint Phalle – Baseball Player

Niki de Saint Phalle - Baseball Player (detail)

Niki de Saint Phalle – Basketball Player

Niki de Saint Phalle - Basketball Player (detail)

Niki de Saint Phalle – Miles Davis

Niki de Saint Phalle – Miles Davis

Niki de Saint Phalle – Louis Armstrong

Niki de Saint Phalle - Louis Armstrong (detail)

Niki de Saint Phalle - Louis Armstrong (detail)

Niki de Saint Phalle – Arbre Serpents

Niki de Saint Phalle - Arbre Serpents

Children love Saint Phalle’s baseball and basketball pieces on 55th and 56th Streets. During my stroll up Park Avenue, one set of kids couldn’t resist trying their own jump shots. Parents love the Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong sculptures, though for my money they are the least successful works. And everyone will enjoy the final piece – exuberant, Sesame-Street-like Tree Serpents, both fun and scary at the same time.

Art on Park Avenue

John Chamberlain and Niki de Saint Phalle
Park Avenue: 52nd and 60th Streets
July 12 through November 15th, 2012

All Photos by Eleanor Foa Dienstag

Opening photo: Chamberlain (foreground) Nana on a Dolphin (rear)

Add Comment Register



Leave a Reply