Sunday, September 8, 2013

Broken Art

Logs, Central Park, the Mount, New York City
Logs at the Mount in Central Park
Central Park's Mount (home to the park's chief composting station) is one of my favorite places.  Typically, it is filled with mountains of wood chips and logs that have not, as of yet, been chopped up.  It's a haunting place particularly when some of the park's older trees find their way there as has been happening all too frequently of late.

Broken Art, Central Park, New York City (Jenny Holzer broken bench from 1989 exhibit)
“Hiding your motives is despicable / the only way to be pure is to stay by yourself” (Jenny Holzer)
Today, the Mount was home to something that was a bit more of a mystery -- a massive piece of broken marble inscribed on all visible sides with words.   There it rested a top a pile of assorted debris with its broken corners carefully pieced together on top.  Unexpected and strangely evocative of a gravestone.

Broken Art, Central Park, New York City (Jenny Holzer broken bench from 1989 exhibit)
"Money Creates Taste" (Jenny Holzer)
Upon arriving home, I did a bit of googling.  As it turns out, the Public Art Fund had staged a showing of Jenny Holzer’s work -- Benches – in Central Park back in 1989.  Holzer is a conceptual artist who is best known for her “truisms”.  Some examples from the broken slab:  “Money Creates Taste” and “Charisma can be fatal.”  The first line of my find matches up to Bench 1 from that long ago exhibit  -- "a man can not know what it’s like to be a mother."

Broken Art, Central Park, New York City (Jenny Holzer broken bench from 1989 exhibit)
"Charisma Can Be Fatal" (Jenny Holzer)
A bit of further searching on the Web revealed that two of Holzer’s benches were a part of the Common Ground installation at City Hall Park at the time Super Storm Sandy hit New York City last fall.  The text on this slab does not match up to those nor does it match up with the text of a bench that was recently donated to Barnard College.  Further Web searches revealed no record of other Holzer benches on display in New York City in recent months.

Broken Art, Central Park, New York City (Jenny Holzer broken bench from 1989 exhibit)
"Your Oldest Fears are the Worst Ones" (Jenny Holzer)

So, it's a bit of a mystery as to how the bench came to reside at the Mount.  There's a symmetry to its fate that I kind of like -- a broken piece of public art from a long ago Central Park exhibit now graces a corner of Central Park that is off the beaten path and a home to logs, wood chips, sand piles, and new paving stones for the park's many paths.

This hefty slab of broken marble fits its new exhibit space -- surrounded as it is by broken trees and other bits of debris from around the park.  I, for one, am hoping it stays for a while.

Update
The walk -- and find -- in this post occurred back in March.  I submitted a shorter version of this piece to the New York Times for Metropolitan Diary (little slices of NY life by readers) and was contacted by Michael Pollak of the Times a couple of weeks later with the back story and a request to publish it in    Answers to Questions about New York.  Once I said yes, I had a seres of email exchanges with the photo editors asking for all my photos given that the Parks Department had removed the piece with the plan of returning it to Ms. Holzer.  Much excitement ensued (of the be still my beating heart kind that is) as I thought about having a photo published in the Times!  That would make up for not having a piece in Metropolitan Diary.  So I convinced myself that all the "sighing" about the small size of my image files would be just that -- sighing that is -- and I'd have a photo in the Times.  How cool would that be?  Alas, that was not to be as it appears that the Times finally got its professional photo in the story that was posted online a couple of days ago.  

Broken Art, Central Park, New York City (Jenny Holzer broken bench from 1989 exhibit)
"Decency is a Relative Thing" (Jenny Holzer)
Although it is nice to know that I was right about the work's provenance (thank you Michael Pollak), I am sad that my submission lead to Broken Art disappearing from the park.  As much as I would have liked having a photo in the Times, the Mount was such a fitting final resting spot for Holzer's damaged work.   Serendipity had produced the best kind of site-specific art -- a piece that melded seamlessly into its setting yet still provoked thought.

Broken Art, Central Park, New York City (Jenny Holzer broken bench from 1989 exhibit)
"If You Live Simply" (Jenny Holzer)

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