Posts tagged with "Van Alen Institute":
A sculpture proposed for a traffic triangle in New York’s Chinatown neighborhood is being criticized by some members of the community for its "stack of tin can"-like appearance. The art piece is a product of the Gateways to Chinatown project, a collaborative effort by the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT), local development corporation Chinatown Partnership, and the Van Alen Institute to “engender pride of place, foster connectivity, and reinforce cultural and social identity within Manhattan’s Chinatown.” Focusing on the plaza where Canal Street forks and Walker Street begins, organizers oversaw an open competition to select which artist would work with the project’s $1 million budget.
While the primary purpose of the project was, according to director of communications at Van Alen Alisha Levin, to “foster connectivity and better enable way-finding with a new public landmark,” selectors also sought a proposal that “responded to the site’s history and context.” Out of 80 total submissions, an installation by Chinese-Australian artist Lindy Lee was ultimately chosen. Lee partnered with two New York-based companies—architecture firm Levenbetts and public art fabrication studio UAP (Urban Art Projects)—to facilitate the structural design and installation of the project.
As renderings released last month indicate, the piece consists of a series of perforated cylinders stacked irregularly above the sidewalk. Inspired by traditional Chinese drum towers, the form of each component is reflective of both drums and the cylindrical rooftop water towers that have come to represent New York City. Titled The Dragon’s Roar, the proposal maintains a level of flexibility through its minimal impact on the traffic triangle’s ground plane. Even with the sculpture installed, the space would still be able to accommodate a small kiosk or seating for social gatherings.
As with most contemporary art that is proposed for urban public space, The Dragon’s Roar has received plenty of criticism from some members of the community. Certain residents have argued that its overall form, which makes only abstract reference to Chinese culture, has nothing to do with the local neighborhood and its heritage. Others have compared the drum-like cylinders to tin cans, complaining that the installation is unsightly and should not become a neighborhood landmark. While organizers of this year’s competition did engage with local community members at various stages in the process to determine what should be placed on the traffic triangle, many insist that outreach efforts were inadequate. The controversy is reminiscent of a similar incident from one year earlier, when residents of Chinese descent called a "Dog-Man" sculpture proposed for Chatham Square demonic and whitewashed. Protests over that piece eventually forced the city to relocate it to Foley Square.
As for The Dragon’s Roar, Levin told AN that Van Alen will “take all feedback in earnest” and will continue working with DOT, community boards, and neighborhood stakeholders to make certain that the final product reflects its cultural and social context. Before Community Board 3 weighs whether to approve the sculpture in September, detractors have promised to make their voices heard.
In April 2015 we heard that the AIGA in New York City was giving up its 5th Avenue storefront headquarters to move into an upper floor of the Woolworth Building. In response, we published an editorial, “Design Orgs Need to Meet the Street,” that argued it was a mistake, at least in New York, for design organizations to give up street frontage, and more importantly, that as architects and designers, “they should also realize the value and need for public space in New York.” AIGA’s 5th Avenue storefront held ambitious, scholarly exhibitions with cutting edge graphics that were visible to the street. This gave them a powerful street presence and the city’s news outlets covered the organization’s projects.
The idea that design nonprofits needed a public presence was a hangover from the 2003 loss of the Urban Center in the Villard Houses on Madison Avenue that housed the Architectural League of New York, the Municipal Art Society, the Parks Council, the local AIA, and a constantly programmed gallery and bookstore. The Center did not have a direct street presence but was open and easily accessible off Madison Avenue, and it quickly became a meeting place for the city’s design community.
The AIA eventually opened in the Center for Architecture, a public-facing storefront on LaGuardia Place, which quickly became a success in a way that was unimaginable before the AIA had a street presence. Sadly for New York, design organizations have not learned from these examples and, caught up in the rapidly gentrifying and expensive real estate environment of Manhattan, seem willing to give up their “public” spaces and move into the background.
The 2015 editorial mentioned that the Van Alen Institute had recently given up its large upper-floor office, which contained a gallery and meeting space, along with its short-lived ground floor bookstore, in exchange for a small storefront that did not allow dynamic public programming. When it did this, the Van Alen gained an office off the street that held a dysfunctional, inconvenient space that was hardly fit to host public events. But its ground floor space had access to the basement, and there was hope that the lower level would be opened up for the office so that the ground floor could be converted into a public event or gallery space. This never happened.
Now we have word that the Van Alen has sold its 14-story headquarters at 30 West 22nd Street as a way of substantially increasing its endowment.
The Van Alen staff, according to the organization's statement, is now “spending an increasing portion of their workday dealing with property management issues.” Furthermore, it argued Van Alen is no longer a New York City–centric organization as it sponsors programs and initiatives across the globe. With the rise in real estate values in New York and the rent they are bringing in from the building, it made sense to the organization to sell the building to support its international programming.
We are not in a position to decide what is best for the Van Alen, which claims it was “uncommonly diligent and methodical in its decision to turn a real estate asset into a resource that gives the organization broad geographic and programmatic flexibility.” But still, one can feel sad for New York City that organizations like the Van Alen are giving up the possibilities of ground floor public space, with little assurance that they can one day get another space with that kind of presence in the city.
When AIGA left its 5th Avenue headquarters, it disappeared from public view, and though its new office is two blocks from the AN office, we have heard virtually nothing from the organization. Let’s hope that the Van Alen Institute stays engaged with the New York public and doesn’t disappear like AIGA did.
David van der Leer, exiting director of Van Alen Institute, noted the impact that Happy could have on people's’ daily lives during a cold and colorless time of year. “By expressing a positive emotion in a public space, Studio Cadena’s delightful installation invites people to take a moment to consider the joy of being in the big, busy city during the holiday season.” Happy was selected by a jury of experts in design and public art including the Corcoran Group’s Nick Athanail, Michael Bierut, partner at Pentagram, Emily Colasacco, event director of NYC Summer Streets, as well as V. Mitch McEwan, partner at A(n) Office, and Aleksey Lukyanov-Cherny of SITU Studio. The installation will be on view through January 1, 2019.