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'Buckyball' Lights Up Madison Square Park in New Exhibit

By Mary Johnson | October 29, 2012 6:34am

FLATIRON — A towering, lighted sculpture capable of displaying some 16 million distinct colors was unveiled in Madison Square Park Thursday night.

BUCKYBALL,” by artist Leo Villareal, features two geometric spheres — one encased in the other — that take the shape of a carbon 60 molecule. The structure is covered in some 180 LED tubes that display different colored lights based on computer software programmed by Villareal himself.

For the opening night reception on Thursday, visitors lounged on so-called “zero-gravity” benches, which resemble curved wooden beds, that have been placed around the sculpture, while eerie sci-fi sounding music blared through the park's speakers.

The music was for opening-night only, but several people who stopped to stare at “BUCKYBALL’s” ever-changing surface said the music was part of what drew them in.

“I find it very calming,” said Liz Mindlin, 61, who lives near Madison Square Park. “The rate at which the colors are changing is very moderate.”

Cheryl Gleason, 49, who lives on the Upper West Side, stood next to Mindlin, her head cocked to one side as she stared at “BUCKYBALL.”

“Look at it now,” Gleason said, as the lights morphed from a range of bright hues to a palette of more muted, neutral colors. “That’s a completely different emotional vibe.”

“You could spend an hour taking it in,” she added. “It’s nice to have something shake up the park a little bit.”

Villareal — whose work has appeared at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Museum of Modern Art and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. — said the inspiration for "BUCKYBALL" comes largely from Buckminster Fuller, a renowned 20th century inventor who was well known for his work with domes.

The purpose of the piece, he added, is to trigger neurological processes in the brain, tapping into the natural human impulse to identify patterns and meaning from the external environment.

Adam Glick, the Madison Square Park Conservancy’s new permanent curator, said he has watched a variety of reactions to the piece since it went up.

“There’s always a slow approach,” said Glick.

“It’s very visually stimulating and pleasurable. There’s real intellectual rigor here,” he continued. “We want art that’s accessible to the public, but we also want to push the limits of what we can do outdoors.”

The sculpture, just the latest of the park’s popular public art installations, will be on display until February 2013.