CHELSEA — A plan by a blue-chip art gallery to display sculptures in Hudson River Park has infuriated a community arts group that had been eyeing the spot for its own showcase.
The Marlborough Gallery, at 545 W. 25th St., is working with the Hudson River Park Trust to install eight sculptures by artists George Rickey and Kenneth Snelson from West 22nd to West 24th streets in the popular waterfront park.
A nonprofit group, however, had spent years working on its own exhibit for the Chelsea Sculpture Park, and criticized the decision to go with the high-profile gallery not only because its own grand vision for an open air museum had already won community support, but also because they questioned Marlborough's past.
Deley Gazinelli, founder and executive director of Chelsea Sculpture Park, called well-known Marlborough the "black sheep of the art world" and a poor pick to run the project.
Marlborough may be a world-renowned art dealer, with three galleries in New York and several others in Spain, London and Monaco, but it was expelled from the Art Dealers Association of America after owners were convicted of defrauding relatives of painter Mark Rothko out of millions of dollars worth of paintings in the 1970s, Gazinelli noted.
He also worried that the gallery was seizing on public space for private interests.
"We are very concerned that Marlborough Gallery, a commercial business, is using a public park as its own private space to showcase works that are for sale," said Gazinelli, one of about a dozen people who turned out Wednesday to a Community Board 4 meeting to oppose the installation.
Community Board 4 members voted Wednesday to approve Marlborough's plan, but urged the gallery to donate profits from the sale of artwork to the park. It was unclear how long the sculptures would be allowed to remain in the park.
A year ago, CB 4 had endorsed Chelsea Sculpture Park, a project envisioned as a "museum without walls," with art selected by Gazinelli's group with the aid of local art dealers. Though that project failed to get off the ground, the organizers still held out hope.
Gazinelli said he initially approached Marlborough as a partner in establishing the nonprofit sculpture park, but claimed the gallery then went around his organization's back and directly to the park with its own proposal after his group had already done community outreach.
"We have a 30 page proposal in the hands of the trust," Gazinelli said. "We just need them to approve it."
Tom Connor, a neighbor, said the Chelsea Sculpture Park began as a "desire from the community to make something special."
He added, "Somehow, now it's being cheapened. It's being ruined, and it's not what's been intended."
Under the new plan, sculptures will be chosen by Marlborough, which will also pay all costs associated with the project.
Even as CB4 voted to recommend the sculpture installation — with reservations — several members criticized it.
"This is really not public art, this is private art in a public space," said board member Jean-Daniel Noland. "They will benefit by having gallery space."
The trust must give final approval before Marlborough's sculpture garden can move forward.
"We're delighted to be partnering with a renowned gallery with a long track record of successfully bringing art to the public," a spokeswoman for the trust said.
"This is an amazing opportunity ro bring an exhibition by two of America's great sculptors to the general public for free in an incredible setting, and we're confident the public will agree."
The spokeswoman added that the trust will continue to collaborate with other arts organizations in the future to bring art to other parts of the park.
Officials at the Marlborough Gallery declined to comment.
The Marlborough Gallery is also sponsoring a temporary public art exhibit of 10 large sculptures by Polish-born artist Magdalena Abakanowicz , called “Walking Figures,” in Dag Hammarksjold Plaza, near the United Nations, from April through August.