28 October 2011

I'd never seen Liberty Plaza Park absent of Occupation, so I have no idea whether it looks large on a normal day, but it has the aura of a delightfully crowded sardine can that makes walking into a constant conversation and negotiation and will not show a yard of empty space any time soon. Hovering above it is the red, large scale sculpture Joie de Vivre by Mark di Suvero, one of the most politically engaged artists of his generation. In the 70's he said "I left the country because of the Vietnam War. We say democracy, and then the United States is guilty of something like Chile. That's incredible." Recently he reflected "The 60's scene was an idea of liberation, was an idea of struggling against this military industrial complex that's still ruling our economy."

di Suvero designed the Peace Tower in Los Angeles in 1966 (left), financed by Rauchenberg and Stella amongst others, which so enraged locals that the artists had to defend it physically, with Irving Petlin at one point reduced to brandishing a broken light bulb. Participants included Guston, Golub, Spero, Hesse, Judd, Motherwell, Nevelson, Rosenquist and many other luminaries. The project was revisited at the 2006 Whitney Biennial with di Suvero collaborating with Rikrit Tiravanija, who had attempted to build a tower in Central Park for the 2004 Republican National Convention.

di Suvero recounted in 2006 why he didn't speak at the recent dedication of Liberty Plaza Park: “They’re not going to let me talk,” Mark di Suvero, 72, said genially, explosively, from his studio hard by the river in Long Island City. “Nah, they’re scared. I got arrested during the [Republican] convention for saying Bush lied. I was one of the oldest people that got hauled in. You should have seen how the cops treated the young girls.” In the city where hovers the legend of Rothko withdrawing his commissioned paintings from the Four Seasons because, as the story goes, he "believed his panels would hang in a boardroom which would be visible from an employees' canteen, that they would be accessible to ordinary office workers.." di Suvero may have wondered back then what sort of audience his sole Manhattan public sculpture would have, until this fall when the best audience he could ever have hoped for convened below it.

As Picasso's 1946 Le Joie de Vivre portrait of Françoise Gilot rose above the nymphs and satyrs by the sea of Antibes, perhaps friends or descendants of the nymphs of Matisse's St-Tropez canvas 40 years earlier (below, currently being stolen from the Barnes estate), di Suvero's figure first rose above the sculptural nymphs on the Pont Alexandre III over the Seine. It then had a brief residence at Storm King, until its original Manhattan abode on the New York side of the Holland Tunnel. I may have driven past it countless times as I like to cross at Holland and then turn left up Broadway to drive through Soho, but I am always focused on the signs and traffic patterns to get into correct lane so I would conjecture that circle is not a prime exhibition space.

Unlike Dubuffet's nearby trees and, across the street, Noguchi's red cube, di Suvero's structure directs the eye upwards towards the skyscrapers that Ginsberg believed in the 50's were depersonalizing the city and dwarfing the potential of the individual "Moloch whose buildings are judgement!.. Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the streets as endless Jehovahs!" This function of a figure re-sized for the surrounding buildings is in contrast to its function in Paris and Storm King (below), but these days there is no shortage of nymphs and satyrs evoking an urban Riviera in the park. It has been roped off since a misguided young Canadian recently climbed it, prompting the police to summon the hostage negotiation team. Previous to that, it was a useful conference space, i.e. "Direct Action meeting at the red sculpture," and one amateur cartographer called it on an Occupied map the "weird red thing."

It would be interesting if di Suvero visited or participated in the protests in some way, except ... oops!.. his wife is in Bloomberg's cabinet... but luckily, as di Suvero said back in the day, "everything I have to say is in my sculptures and I'm stunned that you can't see it."

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