Walking along the farthest block of West 34th Street, navigating past queues waiting for MegaBuses going to Boston, Philadelphia, and other cities, is a small white tent behind a chain-link fence. There begins another journey to a world that will exist only until next May. It is the High Line at the Rail Yards, the last stretch of the beloved park between West 30 and 34th streets, still raw before it joins the two completed sections running to Gansevoort Street.
You are first greeted by a dense, green self-seeded landscape, including a tree ripe with green apples. As you gingerly step over battered wooden rail ties and metal tracks, the vista opens up to the portion called the Spur, which runs parallel to the Hudson River with only the West Side Highway in between. Ships pass by, helicopters land, the Javits Center, the Starrett Lehigh Building, and the new Hudson Yards construction site surround you—and then you encounter the first of seven sculptures by Carol Bove sited along the tracks.
Entitled Caterpillar and organized by High Line Art curator and director Cecilia Alemani, one can’t help think of the segmented larvae camouflaged to resemble the plants on which they feed that inch along until they become butterflies (or, smoking a hookah in Alice in Wonderland.) The Swiss-born Bove grew up in Berkeley, CA and now lives in Red Hook where she is inspired by the industrial landscape and harvests urban detritus. She is known for connecting the natural and the man-made, organic and inanimate, the geometric and the biomorphic.
The first sculpture called Prudence is a squiggled coil of polished white powder-coated steel, which has a sister, Celeste farther down the line. These smooth, sensual, gleaming forms highlight the rough industrial surroundings, and speak sympathetically to the row upon row of silver commuter train cars in the vast yard below and to the east.
The next set of Bove’s sculptures, 14, Monel, and Cow Watched by Argus, are of rougher materials–I-beams and metal plates–which seem to grow out of the bones of the High Line itself and the construction-in-progress glimpsed all around. The beams’ geometric patterns of 14 and A Glyph frame the views, while Monel is an empty plinth seemingly waiting for work to be completed. (The pristine bronze slab was damaged by Hurricane Sandy’s floodwaters.) As one rounds the corner of 30th Street, Visible Things and Colors features a brass 3D grid perched on a shaped concrete pedestal. More intimate in scale, it is perched directly on wooden railroad ties, and sits comfortably with the defunct “ready-mades” seen all along this stretch of of the High Line from a disused switch-box to rusted metal ribbons. Alemani said, “Her work is so much about the power of display and pedestals … and here you can see she is using the landscape of the High Line, and the city around [it], as her own pedestal…and positioned the sculptures right on the vegetation.”
A parallel exhibition by Bove at MoMA called Equinox is on view now through January 12, 2014. It also has seven works, here on a single platform which overlooks the garden, with such titles as Silver Compass, Herma, and Disgusting Mattress. Seeing Bove’s vocabulary taken indoors–there are variations on the High Line sculptures, plus more delicate works–is a fascinating contrast to Caterpillar, and both capitalize on their contexts. The artworks in the museum’s sculpture garden look like miniatures. Visit MoMA and the Caterpillar before it becomes a butterfly next May.
Caterpillar, High Line at the Rail Yards until May 2014. Public Walks Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays. Advance reservations required.
The Equinox, Museum of Modern Art through January 12, 2014