RIVERSIDE PARK SOUTH — A 13-foot tall swing that park-goers can ride is among a series of seven sculptures that debuted in Riverside Park South Thursday.
The sculptures, ranging from meditations on nature to fanciful abstract pieces, are the work of seven women from the Art Students League of New York's "Model to Monument" class.
The women, many of whom have changed careers, were selected by a jury from the League to spend nine months creating the large works and then showcasing them in the park, between West 59th and 70th streets, for an entire year.
"Some have likened the process to basic training for the military," said Executive Director Ira Goldberg.
The program is supported by foundation donors including the Rockefeller Foundation and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, as well as the Extell Development Company and residential complex The Aldyn. A gift from a donor who has chosen to remain anonymous paid for the materials, casting and fabrication of the sculptures, as well as a $300 per month stipend for the artists, Goldberg said.
For the Parks Department, the sculpture program, now in its fourth year, helps cement the green space's "reputation for being an open air museum," Manhattan Borough Commissioner Bill Castro said.
Natsuki Takauji said her swing, a sculpture she named "Window," is "a metaphor for life. You are always going from place to place."
Riding the swing is fun, said the Japanese-born artist, but it can also help people process "the circular energy of life."
For Laura Barmack's sculpture "Just Passing Through," she took inspiration from the detritus that washes up on the shores of the park. It was made from piano wire and rubber, and its curving abstract form is reminiscent of the endlessly cyclical nature of life, she explained.
A few blocks north, another piece depicts two figures made of marble intertwined, representing the "first lovers," spirits from Japanese Shinto mythology, sculptor Minako Yoshino said.
At the base of the 600-pound sculpture, people can use small pieces of slate to write love notes and scatter them in a circle around the figures.
The idea was "to create a beautiful spot for all lovers," explained Yoshino, who was formerly a painter and is now focused on sculpture and designing kimonos.
Sculptor Janet Fekete-Bolton created her piece, "A Conversation with Nature," from steel and admitted viewers have to use their imaginations to interpret the overlapping horseshoe shapes. From her perspective, the piece represents "fire, water, earth and air."
The Hudson River provides a perfect backdrop as viewers can see it through the negative space in her sculpture, she noted.
For many of the sculptors, who are by chance all women this year, they said the opportunity to exhibit their work publicly is an opportunity to engage with a wider audience and perhaps get noticed as emerging artists.
For more information about the program, click here.