Escape The Lists, Get To SI For Public Art

Public art in New York, like everything else here except affordable living spaces, is plentiful and all over the place. Sane art lovers will recognize that they can’t see everything and may put together a plan based on a helpful list like the Curbed one I reposted earlier.

Though these lists are generally long, reasonably diverse and potentially overwhelming, they do have a lot of overlap. After scanning a handful, I started seeing the same major pieces over and over, generally in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

So for the art hunters who want to branch out into the lesser-Googled boroughs, I started making some calls. Below, my own list of what’s on view in Staten Island this summer.

The Dance

The Dance. Source: NYC Parks.

The Dance. Source: NYC Parks.

Sculptor DB Lampman, who runs MakerSpace, has this piece on view at Tappen Park until September.

“The Dance” features five figures of steel and nylon, within a rectangular structure and surrounded by the park’s leaning trees. Suspended 15 feet above the ground, the figures hold hands in a circle recalling the Matisse painting for which the sculpture is named.

According to the NYC Parks Department, the sculpture of unified figures has particular significance for the Staten Island community, as a representation of the borough’s united recovery after Hurricane Sandy.

Jonathan Kuhn, Parks’ director of art and antiquities, said in a release, “Tappen Park, along with many other Staten Island neighborhoods, was severely damaged during Hurricane Sandy. However, Staten Islanders came together to help rebuild this community. The neighborhood’s effort is an integral part of the inspiration for Lampman’s public artwork.”

Tappen Park is located off of Bay Street between Water and Canal.


In April, the Centre-Fuge Public Art Project brought their brushes and spray cans to Wave Street in Staten Island’s Stapleton neighborhood. Centre-Fuge uses as a canvas the bleak and boring surfaces of NYC, namely construction sites, in part to maintain neighborhoods’ ownership of their streets while they are transformed.

Curated by Kwue Molly, the varied and colorful Wave Street series took over what was formerly a sooty, rusted block. Richmond Hood has some great pictures of the artists in action.

According to Christain Reinsch of the artists’ collective Projectivity, which collaborated with Centre-Fuge on these pieces, the block that got painted sits in the heart of an informal arts district, “central to a lot of the public art projects that are going on.” Projectivity and Molly have their own project to celebrate the art coming out of this neighborhood; you can read about it further down.

Wave Street stretches between Front and Sands.

Mariposas Amarillas

Mariposas Amarillas. Source: NYC DOT

Mariposas Amarillas. Source: NYC DOT

Lina Montoya of the Ele Eme public art project has had this piece installed at Jewett Avenue and Richmond Terrace for about a year, through a commission from the NYC Department of Transportation.

Montoya’s work through Ele Eme concerns the immigrant experience in America and New York, in both its broad themes and small details that she draws from her Colombian background. She designed Mariposas Amarillas in collaboration with Staten Island’s El Centro del Inmigrante, where she learned about the butterfly as an icon for the immigrant, she said.

Montoya told me that, to her, these butterflies represent freedom. She said they directly contrast the regulations and boundaries of immigration law in America.

So I was not surprised to see that, with Mariposas Amarillas, Montoya used a boundary – a fence – as a canvas to cover with these symbols of flight, autonomy and new life. With the help of hundreds of local volunteers, she placed 18,000 butterflies over the fence for a mural that stretches 150 feet wide. The mural also includes New York and Staten Island iconography, from the Statue of Liberty to the South Ferry.

“I wanted to talk about immigration, but in a good way. Not the struggle, the movement, and la luche,” Montoya said. “I wanted to talk about the dreams.”

The installation was intended to close in early July, but has been extended, according to the artist.

Vaya Guacamaya

Vaya Guacamaya. Source: Lina Montoya

Vaya Guacamaya. Source: Lina Montoya

Montoya also has this independent street mural up on Castleton Avenue and Port Richmond Avenue. Vaya Guacamaya comes from the artist’s La Isla Bonita series – as does Mariposas Amarillas – of public art pieces in Staten Island that take musical themes or lyrics as inspiration. Yours truly was treated to a brief but lovely rendition of the song Guacamaya by the artist during our chat.

The mural was created in collaboration with artists Rigoberto Fabian, Homero Herrera, Arlette Cepeda, and Melissa Mejía. According to Montoya, work will continue on Vaya Guacamaya throughout the summer.

Street Art Map

Still in progress, but keep your eye out for it. The aforementioned Kwue Molly and Projectivity have teamed up to create a map of Staten Island’s nearly 50 different street art murals that are accessible by foot from the Staten Island Ferry.

The project is made possible through a Staten Island Arts grant, and will manifest in 1,000 printed maps sprinkled throughout the island, according to Reinsch. A PDF version will also be available for download.

“People don’t really realize how much street art is actually around, and it’s been popping up,” Reinsch said. “That’s why the art map showing that there is so much in one place, it’s going to start to break down those barriers. People will be like, ‘oh, there is a lot of art here.'”

According to Reinsch, the map is less than a month from completion. By the terms of the grant, it will be finished by the end of the year, according to Staten Island Arts’ Gena Mimozo.

A Note On Lumen

Almost everyone I interviewed for this list mentioned LUMEN, an annual festival of contemporary visual and performance art. Presented by Staten Island Arts, it looks like a very cool event and a fixture in the island’s cultural scene.

This year, reportedly for the first time, Lumen is not free – tickets run $15. So normally it would not qualify for coverage by the rules of this blog, which focuses on the thought, policy and funding behind art that is open for and accessible to the public. (Of course, simply being free doesn’t necessarily make a piece of public art as public as its creators might claim – a topic you can expect to see covered here at length.)

But because LUMEN was important to so many people I spoke with, and because it clearly falls within their personal definitions of what public art is, I decided I would be remiss to ignore it on this list.

LUMEN takes place June 20 from 7 p.m. to midnight at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden. According to DNAInfo, this year’s curator Will Corwin asked artists to use Snug Harbor’s historic architecture as inspiration for their works. LUMEN will feature an international pool of both new and emerging artists.

According to Mimozo, an audience of between 3,000 and 4,000 are expected for the event.

Update: There Goes The Neighborhood.

Turns out Montoya’s was not the only piece to get an extended stay from the DOT.

As an addendum to this list, I’m adding Lisa Dahl‘s There Goes The Neighborhood, a banner mural at the Staten Island Ferry terminal commissioned by the DOT.

The piece went up in July 2013 and was originally scheduled to come down in May 2014. According to the artist, this piece “held up so well it’s still up.”

There Goes The Neighborhood was designed to enliven a nondescript 60-foot pedestrian walkway. From a May 2014 release:

By simplifying the recognizable form of a house, Dahl explores the traditional ideas we attach to home ownership as well as what these buildings evoke for us. To make this work unique to its location, she purposefully chose a predominance of orange to pay homage to the famous color of the ferry boats. Her technique of dripping paint to mask the façade of each house also referencing the common phrase of homes being “under water” as in the recent housing bust, as well as the damage wrought by natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy.

Staten Islanders: What other pieces of local public art should people know about this summer? Keep this list growing in the comments.