Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Vision To Visuals: Walk, Don’t Walk
By crowd sourcing, an artist created a unique display in Lower Manhattan
|“Walking Men 99” by Maya Barkai in Lower Manhattan.|
Art and real estate enjoy a unique complementary relationship. The depreciation of real estate prices inevitably creates a downward demand trend for art as well. This kinship was most evident earlier in this decade, when prominent art shows in the country were overwhelmingly attended by real estate developers, and realtors began creating residential buildings designed by artists. So when the downturn in real estate began, the art industry had good reason to be concerned.
One staple sight during this real estate boom in Manhattan were construction barricades surrounding new building sites in almost all neighborhoods. Large panels of plywood wrapping whole city blocks showed digital renderings of what the building eventually would look like. At one point, there were so many of these sites that an ordinance was passed to severely limit the size of these printed sales messages, leaving empty plywood corridors in their place. The wide expanse of these empty barricades always seemed to me like a missed opportunity to utilize that space to visually communicate with a large audience.
Fortunately, not-for-profit art organizations in the city saw these construction sites as a golden opportunity to interact with the public through art installations while providing essential support to artists. The Downtown Alliance is one of my favorite such organizations and through its public art program Re:Construction identifies sites in Lower Manhattan and creates alliances between developers, curators and artists to bring the most thought-provoking art to the public. Their goal is to “recast construction sites as canvasses for innovative public art and architecture with original and whimsical design.”
In January 2010, we completed the installation of one of their largest barricades on 99 Church Street, a site where Silverstein Properties is building the tallest residential building and hotel tower in the city. Silverstein is one of the most visionary developers in the city whose commitment to rebuilding Lower Manhattan is unprecedented. Having personally suffered the loss of the most prized possession in their portfolio, the WTC towers, their commitment to rebuilding Lower Manhattan is driven by personal passion.
The artist who created this barricade is Israeli-born photographer Maya Barkai. For this installation, called “Walking Men 99,” Barkai joined together photographs of 99 pedestrian traffic light icons from cities around the world. These images were created with the astonishing “crowd-sourcing” potential of the web. Barkai established a website where she asked people to submit photographs of walking men all over the world and then she put them together by city. Most of us who have seen these walking signs all around in our travels and perhaps even marveled at some of the unique ones have forgotten them when we left those places. It’s a wonderful treat to be reintroduced to this diversity of a familiar concept from around the world—a great way to see how far a single idea travels and unites us all. What other place than Lower Manhattan, close to the WTC, to display such a strong symbol of unity.
The curators Ayelet Daniele Aldouby and Elinor Milchan from Artea Projects organized this public installation and described the motivation behind this work: “Maya realized that not only does the symbol exist in every city, but she discovered that many of them are different. In Dresden, there’s a walking girl, and in Fredericia, Denmark, a soldier. East Berlin has a little man wearing a hat. She also has images of the silhouette of Hans Christian Andersen, the traffic symbol for Odense, Denmark, and Sophie, a pony-tailed female traffic sign in Utrecht, the Netherlands.”
Page 1 of 2