At the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge on the Brooklyn side.
Waterfalls of New York. There are four of them, and they will stay on East River for three months and a half. This is what contemporary dictionaries call Land Art. Minimalism evolved into Conceptual Art, more and more artists considered their works in relation with the ambient, and time came when the mere room in an exhibition, or a sculpture garden became no more sufficient for defining an ambient: the artwork had to confront the natural environment.
Now, I should say that once the ambient became the natural environment the art started to go back toward Minimalism: to speak about Conceptual Art makes full sense when the artwork is considered within an exhibition room, it becomes arguable when the ambient is sea shore or desert.
Land Art started by the sixties in the deserts of Nevada, and Utah, and Arizona: Robert Smithson, Walter de Maria, James Turrell, Michael Heizer. What was this confrontation with the natural environment? Says Walter de Maria, creating situations where the landscape and nature, light and weather would become an intense, physical and psychic experience.
Then came the urban environments: Christo and Jeanne-Claude with their Gates, in Manhattan's Central Park.
The new Land Artwork, the Cascades on the East River, has Olafur Eliasson as main author: a Danish-Icelandic artist in his forties, known for the Weather Project, installed at 2003/2004 at Tate Modern: weather as the basis for exploring ideas about experience, mediation and representation.
I think I won't be able to make it this summer, to visit New York, so I'll miss the Cascades. Or, who knows? Maybe some time in July or August, just for a weekend?
If I look at the photos published by NY Times, probably the best view would be from Brooklyn Heights: it is a gorgeous view anyway from there, with or without Waterfalls.
I think I was on the Brooklyn Heights twice. The first time I walked over the Brooklyn Bridge and I continued up to the Promenade on the Heights.
And I was happy; I had seen the Brooklyn Heights before in a movie and my sister had driven me on the expressway under the terrace. Now I was on the Heights, enjoying the great panorama.
I came back there the second time with my friends Nadia and Vladi. Vladi was driving the car, and there was also a Romanian friend of them, the author Horia Arama.
There is a place near Brooklyn Heights where newly married come to make photos: that time when we were there, Nadia, Vladi, Horia, and me, there were three or four couples of just married Koreans.
I met again Horia in Bucharest. I was in a short vacation and we met by chance at a Book Fare. We remembered Brooklyn Heights and also our first encounter, in a small restaurant on the Prince Street, the Milady's. But this is another story which deserves a post on its own.
Vlady told me after many other months that Horia had died. A man whom I met three times only, but each time was meaningful.
Okay, let's come back to the Waterfalls of New York City. Here is a review by Roberta Smith from today's NY Times:
When Walt Whitman crossed the East River on the Brooklyn Ferry, the sheer ecstasy of the trip made him see the future. It was us, the coming generations of urban dwellers who would draw the same energy he did from his wonderful town and its waterways.
Whitman imagined an essence of city life that is still palpable — and intoxicating — no matter how many changes we lament. But I doubt he could have conjured one thing that we can see for the next three and a half months: the waterfalls in our midst.
Four of them, to be exact. Together they form a mammoth work of shoreline land art called The New York City Waterfalls . It is the brainchild of the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson working with the tireless Public Art Fund and a host of public and private organizations and donors. Between 90 and a 120 feet high and up to 80 feet across, they cascade into Whitman’s beloved East River from four dense, plumbed scaffolding structures on or just off the coasts of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Governors Island, making some of New York’s most thrilling waterside vistas more so.
Sometimes Mr. Eliasson’s falls are almost miragelike, especially after dark, when unobtrusive lighting makes them shimmer white against the muffled cityscape. It is at night that you have the greatest chance of hearing them from a distance, otherwise the rush of water is drowned out by the city. But their quiet heightens their strangeness, day or night. It is as if they were in their own movie, a silent one. And in a way they are. They could almost fool King Kong into thinking he is back home. They are the remnants of a primordial Eden, beautiful, uncanny signs of a natural nonurban past that the city never had.
Sometimes when the wind is brisk, and the steel scaffolding is especially visible, the falls inspire more nuts-and-bolts associations. They can send the mind to the Cyclone of Coney Island and those towers from which daredevil riders and their hapless steeds used to jump, or to old Times Square with its ambitious billboards. If you get really close to them, you’ll see that the water is carried upward by what are essentially common New York apartment-building plumbing risers (18 inches in diameter, and occurring every 10 feet across).
The waterfalls run every day, from morning until 10 at night. Which is to say that they can be turned off, unlike the city that never sleeps. (They do turn off automatically if the wind is too strong.) Unlike real waterfalls, they continuously recirculate river water, meaning that they are, technically speaking, fountains. In the same vein the work’s very title is an oxymoron. After all, it was the relative dearth of real waterfalls that fostered New York’s nearly instant success and glamour as a port city.
But The New York City Waterfalls is also one of the largest works of art, public or otherwise, of our modern era. (Let’s not get in a shouting match with ancient civilizations, where autocratic rule made all sorts of things possible.) The piece is an heir to the monumental site-specific artworks whose most spectacular examples were made (and in some cases still are being made) in the distant reaches of the Nevada and Utah deserts starting in the late 1960s and the ’70s by earth artists like Robert Smithson, Walter De Maria, James Turrell and Michael Heizer. Ever since, younger, less isolationist artists have figured out ways to do something similar in the urban environment, within reach of a large public. In this they have followed the example of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, whose 2005 Gates ostentatiously swathed Central Park in orange.
The waterfalls are an astounding feat of engineering, municipal coordination and fund-raising (given their $15 million price tag). But they are also actually relatively unobtrusive and brilliantly insidious. They go against the grain of the often spectacular nature of quite a bit of the best-known public art, including some made by Mr. Eliasson himself.
Mr. Eliasson likes to think big about ways to enhance the experience of light, space, scale, nature and community. His best known work is the 2003 Weather Project, an immense installation of the jaw-dropping kind. Using bright yellow fluorescent lights behind a scrim and a mirrored ceiling, it created an immense glowing sun on the end wall of Tate Modern’s vast Turbine Hall, while also mechanically adding bits of mist and fog to the view.
For months Londoners basked in the work’s artificial glow, often while stretched out on the ground gazing up at their tiny reflections. Sometimes they collaborated on performance pieces visible to everyone, arranging their prone bodies in words of greeting or protest or in abstract designs. Some people hated the work, seeing it as a dwarfing spectacle with fascist overtones; others complained that it turned the museum into a giant playpen.
Here Mr. Eliasson takes a more subtle tack. The falls don’t bowl you over or dwarf you until you get close to them, and even then not always. Mostly they accumulate in a way art purists may welcome with buzzwords like de-centering and discursive. Despite its size, the work has to be assembled and reassembled by individual viewers who will see its parts from hundreds of different vantage points along the river.
Even when you go to one of the places where all four waterfalls are visible at once, the spectacular character of the piece builds slowly. From the top level of the Pier 17 building in the South Street Seaport, for example, the widest fall, spouting from beneath the Brooklyn Bridge and veiling the Brooklyn-side pylon in sheets of white water, is easy enough to spot. The others , smaller and more distant, must be picked out one by one. To the right, the second Brooklyn falls, on the Brooklyn Piers, can almost get lost in the jumble of buildings. Up river a bit the Manhattan falls stand out on the short Pier 35 yet seem a little dwarfed, like a water slide without its slide. To the far right, the falls on Governors Island are especially beautiful. Rising above the relatively low-lying profile like a tropical vision, they seem to waiting for the jungle to grow up around them.
The experience of Mr. Eliasson’s artful addition to the urban landscape depends on everything around it — the city’s changing pace, light and (real) weather. And on you. The falls can be looked at from near or far, alone or in groups, on foot or bike, from boats and bridges, in snatched glimpses on the move or staying-in-place contemplation. They fake natural history with basic plumbing, making little rips in the urban fabric through which you glimpse hints of lost paradise and get a sharpened sense of Whitman’s, the one you already inhabit.
(New York, New York)