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High-End Developers Tap Art World to Spruce Up Construction Sites

By Amy Zimmer | August 17, 2012 8:00am
Famed Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama designed the netting for the condo conversion at 435 W. 14th St.
Famed Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama designed the netting for the condo conversion at 435 W. 14th St.
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Courtesy of DDG Partners

MANHATTAN — Construction sites needn’t be eyesores, according to high-end Manhattan developers who are transforming their scaffolds into temporary public art exhibits.

Instead of using the typical black netting to wrap the new Meatpacking District condo going up at 345 W. 14 th St., developer DDG Partners installed last week a massive 120-foot black-and-yellow reproduction of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s “Yellow Trees.”

The ambitious piece, which coincides with a retrospective of the 83-year-old artist at the Whitney Museum of American Art, is part of a larger trend of making work sites attractive.

Two Upper East Side condo conversions underway by Macklowe Properties turned their scaffolds into artworks this spring.

The move aimed to beautify the buildings’ character during this interim period and enhance a “community” feel, rather than hindering it, according to Jarrett White, Macklowe’s vice president of marketing.

“We are transforming these buildings in the community into something great and that are part of the community,” White said.

“We hold ourselves to the highest standards, and our interest in design and art really shines through."

Macklowe, who collects modern art with his wife, Linda, made ARTnews’ list of the world’s top 200 art collectors.

“We like to be on the leading edge of doing this,” said White about his company’s use of art, which they are planning to expand.  

At 150 East 72nd St. where Macklowe is overhauling the interior of a classic 1913 apartment building into gracious three- to five-bedroom condos with 10-foot ceilings and sprawling layouts, the creative agency dbox made a brightly colored piece that’s been splashed on the scaffold since April.

“We wanted to do something that was purely graphic, purely modern it its form,” White said.

“If you’re standing far away it’s a blend of colors. As you get closer, you see strips of color. So, depending on where you’re looking, you see how the color blends or comes apart.”

Some people confuse the pattern that, since May, has been gracing the 1940 building at 737 Park Ave., at the corner of East 71st St. — to be filled with two- to five-bedroom apartments — for Perrier bubbles. But it’s actually a half-tone pattern, White said, referring to the dots that form the basis of newsprint.

White was just pleased that people are talking about the work created by Vignelli Associates — considered the grandfather of graphic design firms.

“We don’t want you to know exactly what it is,” he said.

Macklowe Properties had already been working with both companies on various projects when they tapped them to do the scaffolds. White declined to disclose the cost of the projects for the buildings, whose condo sales are expected to kick off later this year.

Joe McMillan, chief executive of DDG Partners, said his firm had a long-standing relationship with the Whitney, making it a natural fit to work with the institution and the Gagosian Gallery, which represents Kusama, on the project.

“We thought we had a unique opportunity to bring art to the city,” McMillan said of the piece, first reported by the Wall Street Journal.  “We had a canvas, and we wanted to do something with it.”

It also made sense to incorporate art considering the building’s location at the crossroads of Chelsea’s arts district and the Meatpacking District, near the future home of the Whitney.

The Kusama work is expected to come down at the end of September, which is also when her retrospective at the Whitney wraps up.

It's removal will reveal a different kind of object d’art — a new condo.

McMillan said he’s seen people pause to snap photos of the building non-stop.

“That’s the greatest benefit,” he said, “seeing people enjoy the art.”