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Art Installations That Become Stages Are Coming to Madison Square Park

By Noah Hurowitz | December 12, 2016 2:14pm
 An early rendering of
An early rendering of "Prismatic Park" shows the three structures that will rise in Madison Square Park in June as part of an installation by Josiah McElheny.
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Madison Square Park Conservancy

FLATIRON — A new installation of sculptures inspired by the radical use of public spaces across the world and designed by a one-time MacArthur “genius grant” recipient is coming to Madison Square Park in the spring.

“Prismatic Park,” a series of three structures built from wood and glass and designed by sculptor Josiah McElheny, will rise in the park in June and provide a space for other artists to present their work to the public, according to the Madison Square Park Conservancy.

Early renderings of the sculptures show a circular platform, a curved wall, and a canopy, all of which will be constructed from wood and prismatic glass, or glass with one smooth side and one side formed into sharp ridges.

The goal of the project, according to the park’s top art curator Brooke Kamin Rapaport, is to provide art that can double as a venue for public use. 

The Madison Square Park Conservancy will team up with three arts organizations — Blank Forms, Danspace Project, and Poets House — to organize a program of work from dancers, musicians, and poets who will perform using the structures as their stage.

“This project takes the impetus from recent activism in public parks and squares, but its core comes from an idealistic, almost utopian, concept of the optimism for the shared responsibility of a public site by people and the artist’s role in solidifying that contract,” she said. “By making three stunning prismatic glass works and by partnering with three nonprofits, McElheny is positing his works as platforms for questions of how sculpture can revamp other disciplines.”

McElheny said he drew inspiration from recent surges of political activity in public spaces such as Cairo’s Tahrir Square or Zucotti Park, and designed the installation with the intention of making a public space easier to use, gather in and share.

“One of the most urgent societal issues today is how can we best share what little public space is left to us,” he said in a statement. “Prismatic Park attempts to provide a partial answer to this question by suggesting that the arts can expand existing public spaces through the visionary efforts of individuals and small groups, creating works of art, dance, music and poetry in the middle of our city.”

McElheny, whose work has included solo exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art Boston, the White Chapel Gallery in London, and more, was a 2006 recipient of the MacArthur Foundation's so-called "genius grant."

“Prismatic Park” will be the latest in a series of sculptures and installations in the park, a program that began in 2004. The current installation, “Big Bling,” is a 40-foot colossus of plywood, chicken wire, and a gold-leaf shackle that rose in the park’s central lawn in May and will remain through April 2, 2017.