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Artist Jenny Holzer to Design AIDS Memorial in West Village

 Jenny Holzer is designing text engravings that will cover the entire ground of the new AIDS Memorial in the West Village.
Jenny Holzer to Design New AIDS Memorial
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WEST VILLAGE — Internationally renowned artist Jenny Holzer will design part of the city's first significant AIDS memorial, planners announced Wednesday night. 

Holzer — known for her text-based public art installations in Central Park and the lobby of 7 World Trade Center — will inscribe portions of Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" on paving stones as part of the New York City AIDS Memorial at West 12th Street and Greenwich Avenue.

The 8,992 words will spiral outward from a fountain at the center of the memorial, which is part of a new park near the former site of St. Vincent's Hospital. The memorial will be framed by benches and two overarching metal canopy-like structures.

The memorial's planners, Christopher Tepper and Paul Kelterborn, announced Holzer's involvement in the memorial at a Community Board 2 meeting on Wednesday night, then read a statement from the artist in which she referred to Whitman's words as "a poem of strength and joy."

"Whitman's message of hope, of dignity in the face of death, of the glories of an embodied life, and of transcendence in the face of oppressiveness and tragedy, spoke to the requirements of the memorial and universalized them," Holzer said in the statement.

"Whitman was also a proud New Yorker, a poet of the people threaded through his city, a man whose work includes paeans to the metropolis that he thought represented the greatest realization of human diversity."

The park's developers, Rudin Management and Global Holdings, Inc., expect to open the green space to the public this summer, but the memorial will not be unveiled until World AIDS Day in December.

This will be Holzer's first permanent, public work in New York City.

"We think that she's the perfect fit," Kelterborn told CB2's Parks and Waterfront Committee on Wednesday, noting Holzer's history of work referencing the AIDS crisis.

Click here to read the full text of Holzer's selection from Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself."

The design was largely well-received at CB2, though some wished the memorial more explicitly addressed the AIDS crisis and its history in the neighborhood.

"My concern is that this becomes so abstract, although moving, that it loses specificity," said board member Susanna Aaron, noting that earlier plans directly referenced St. Vincent's Hospital, which was once "ground zero" of the city's AIDS epidemic.

The original plan would have inscribed the memorial's granite paving stones with poetry, quotes and facts about the Village's response to the AIDS epidemic. A committee led by Tony Award-winning playwright Tony Kushner, creator of "Angels in America," was going to select the words.

But Tepper said the memorial's board of directors thought the project was too important for "pithy quotes."

"Our mission is still the same," he said.

Rudin agreed to create the public park containing the memorial as part of a negotiation with the city that allowed them to build The Greenwich Lane, a nearby complex of condos and townhouses.

CB2's full board will vote on the design at a meeting later this month, and then it will go before the city's Public Design Commission.