Vision To Visuals: Art And The Downtown Alliance

The 10th anniversary of 9/11 arrived in our city with grace. Valiant reconstruction efforts that have silently been at play in the past decade revealed a rejuvenated New York. Lower Manhattan’s once desolate neighborhoods are now burgeoning with new businesses, and neighborhoods are showing the creative resolve of political and business figures who shaped this beautiful present from the painful debris of 9/11. The Downtown Alliance in Lower Manhattan has been a major force behind the blueprint for this dynamic new downtown, as it brought its celebration of culture, history, heritage and contemporary art in-to public spaces through unique outdoor programs.

In post-9/11 NYC, the Downtown Alliance recognized that massive reconstruction projects would dot the landscape of downtown New York for years. They created a unique public art program that would convert each construction site into an artist’s canvas to "create colorful landmarks and brightened streetscapes as they help mitigate the impact of Downtown’s numerous building projects." The program, titled Re:Construction, has played a significant role in engaging people who live and work in Lower Manhattan into meaningful connections with their neighborhood. Re:Construction is a unique public-private partnership between developers, curators, artists and city officials to conceive, commission and implement art in public spaces. Through a grant from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the Downtown Alliance appoints curators who commission artists to create art for developers to exhibit on their construction sites.

The Duggal team has worked closely with the curators of the Downtown Alliance to reproduce the vision of their artists into large-scale graphics. In the days leading up to this anniversary of 9/11, we installed several projects. One of the largest projects wrapped the actual World Trade Center construction site in a 1,000-linear-foot-long graphic. The piece, titled Men At Work, by artist Maya Barkai features images of men working in 148 cities around the world. Created in the true crowd-sourcing tradition of our times, the images on this graphic were sourced from submissions on a website that Maya set up for international photographers. Converting each photograph into a design icon, Maya created a massive digital artwork that could be printed onto an outdoor graphic. Curators Ayelet Danielle Aldouby and Elinor Milchan invited Maya to create this new work after she created the Walking Men exhibit, which I wrote about in an earlier Vision To Visuals column.

Amidst the massive post-9/11 construction projects in Lower Manhattan, a special art program transforms the stark plywood and scaffolding into pastoral scenes.

Another artist, Richard Pasquarelli, with his work Secret Gardens, wraps a construction site on Chambers Street. That 1,000-linear-foot graphic creates a voyeuristic sense of peeking into private gardens through hedges as one walks alongside it by the sidewalk. Pasquarelli wasn’t sure what he would create when he was commissioned for the project. While he was jogging in Paris, inspiration struck him. Looking past the hedges along his jogging route, Pasquarelli discovered gardens that lay beyond the green bushes. He translated that experience into the Secret Gardens with a series of graphics and photographs. Karin Bravin, his curator, notes, "Richard Pasquarelli not only creates something beautiful to look at if you are quickly walking by, but he gives viewers something to contemplate if they want to take a little more time. He invites people to peer in and he offers so many visual surprises with this work. Instead of ‘DO NOT ENTER’, Pasquarelli is saying ‘Please enter and take a look’."

Another artist, Larry Lederman, created a nature-inspired piece titled the Sour Gum Tree. Larry photographed six seasonal phases of the tree and placed them next to each other with people experiencing their different moods as they walk by them. Says Lederman, "For me, photography is an emotional experience. When [photographs] are large there is an emotional impact that informs your sense of the divine. It is the way that I see the images when I take them." Elizabeth H. Berger, president of the Downtown Alliance, commented on Larry’s work, "Larry Lederman’s stunning landscape photography will invigorate our transforming streetscapes and brighten the days of the thousands of workers, residents and tourists who walk past it."

The process of creating outdoor art installations of this magnitude begins with the most important step of measuring the plywood panels at the construction site on which a graphic can be installed. Given the ad hoc nature of the on-site scaffold structures and union rules, measuring the panels with the necessary precision is a significant challenge. Along with these measurements, the artist needs to understand how the plywood panels may cause seams at various places in the artwork. There’s invariably a lot of back and forth between the artists and our printers during the entire process, and decisions about cropping images need to take place at the drop of a hat. Our senior art executive Marina Stark and printer Dylan Pappas have seamlessly managed the prepress and production stage of these art projects for years now. Our installation team, led by Danny, makes sure that the production cycle is completed flawlessly on the construction site. Duggal has a special machine—the only one in the U.S.—that allows us to print these graphics and translate each digital file into a high-resolution, photographic-quality print that can stay installed outdoors for years if necessary.

Public art programs such as Re:Construction open up a new world of opportunities for photographers working in the fine-art medium. As to how the curators select artists for these projects, Ayelet and Elinor say they "look for images that would look great at large scale and some level of sensuality and connection with whoever is going to walk by it on the street." Karin Bravin looks for "artists who can adapt to the changing quality of the site and who can create modular work. When one panel of the parapet at a construction site must be removed, the entire narrative in an art piece should not be displaced." Eliminating conventional expectations of how art must be experienced in secluded environments like galleries, these projects help artists confront the average person on the street and help create new methods of communication.

Projects such as Re:Construction are my true reward for having created a company that can, with equal facility, work with corporations on advertising campaigns and help individual artists to transform bleak urban environments into art installations.

We’re proud to be supporting every process from vision to visuals for such noble projects.

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