Sexy Sign Signals Controversy at Instituto Cervantes

By Amy Zimmer on March 21, 2011 3:47pm | Updated on March 22, 2011 6:10am

By Amy Zimmer

DNAinfo News Editor

MANHATTAN — An LED sign broadcasting cryptic yet sexy messages from the façade of the Instituto Cervantes building ruffled some feathers in Turtle Bay.

The sign that hung from a second-story window at the landmarked building, at East 49th Street and Third Avenue, included a scrolling ticker that displayed such phrases as "Be proud of your masculinity much longer than it used to be,"  "be a god of her intimate dreams, and "dance in the sheets all night long."

Locals insisted it wasn't the content of the sign that lead them to demand that Instituto Cervantes remove it. Instead, they said it violated Department of Building rules, said Toni Carlina, district manager of Community Board 6.

She received an email complaint from a resident about the sign on Thursday. By Friday morning it was gone.

"I got it down in a day," Carlina said.

The institute, founded in 1991 by the Spanish government to promote Spanish language and culture, had gone to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for approval, but did not take the next requisite step of getting a DOB permit, Carlina explained.

"They didn't realize they needed it," Carlina said. "Most attorneys do not know city rules and regulations. I think they were innocent."

A DOB spokesperson explained that if the organization's sign complied with zoning regulations, it would still need a sign permit and alteration permit — neither of which Instituto Cervantes obtained.

"After Community Board 6 complained we asked our lawyers to check if all the permits were in place, as we thought they were," the institute's director Eduardo Lago said. "In the meantime, as a precautionary measure we took the art piece 'Spam' by DETEXT down."

The piece by art collective  DETEXT was part of an exhibition called Electrica IC-11, which focuses on collaborations between "cultural producers" living in New York grappling with notions such as "language and translation," the institute's website said.

"Rather than resist conflicts, participants embrace the challenges and joys inherent in cross-cultural production," the institute said of the show scheduled to end March 26.

DETEXT mined its own junk box for material for "Spam," which was meant to "highlight our own subconscious desires, or simply the absurdity of messages in contemporary urban life."

"Spam" will remain part of the show.

"After solving a few technical problems we will put the art piece back in our exhibition space. This time it will be inside the gallery on a window until the end of the show," Lago said.

"It was pretty scatological. It attracted a lot of attention," said Bruce Silberblatt, of the Turtle Bay Association. "They claimed it was art."

But, he added, "It's gone not because of the content but because hanging an electronic moving sign is illegal."

Carlina said, "I'm not upset with them. The community understands it was a mistake on their part."

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