Don’t Call It Lobby Art: A Manhattan Development Is Livening Up the Street With Larger-Than-Life Works by Christopher Wool and Charles Ray

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Is it possible that the secret to successful public art is commissioning artists who don’t ordinarily make it?

That can roughly be described as the philosophy of Jacob King, the art advisor at the center of a new dual presentation of works by Charles Ray and Christopher Wool at the eight-acre commercial complex Manhattan West, owned and developed by Brookfield Properties.

“My whole pitch to Brookfield from the beginning was that if you’re going be doing commissions with artists for public places, I think it’s really important to work with artists that don’t do a lot of these,” King told Artnet News. “There’s a lot of great artists that do a lot of work in lobbies but when you put an artist in a lobby that people expect to see there, they often just ignore it. I think it’s much more challenging, but also much more rewarding, to try to work with artists who haven’t done works in this context before.”

On June 5, the sculptor Charles Ray unveiled two stainless-steel, larger-than-life figures, titled (2023), on the steps outside of the Hudson Yards site. Hanging in the adjacent lobby is painter Christopher Wool’s monumental 28-by-39-foot mosaic made of Venetian stone and glass, which is visible from the street through large glass windows.

Detail of Charles Ray, Adam and Eve (2023) at Manhattan West. Photo by Timothy Schenck.

Detail of Charles Ray, Adam and Eve (2023) at Manhattan West. Photo by Timothy Schenck.

King, who has advised Brookfield on art for the past seven years, said that he thought Ray and Wool, stars of the contemporary art world, would be long shots for the commissions. But when he approached Ray a few years ago, the artist immediately agreed.

Ray said that the pandemic affected his approach to the sculpture, as did his own injuries, including a broken neck sustained during a recent car accident.

“At the same time, I was reading the and a history of Adam and Eve,” Ray told Artnet News during an unveiling celebration. “As I was reading and thinking about it at the the height of the pandemic, older people were dying and it was horrible.”

The resulting work depicts an elderly man and woman, rendered in the artist’s signature stainless steel in a larger-than-life scale. “I’m very interested in this location and the civic quality,” Ray said. “I know they have to interact with the vitality. They had to look out, but not compete with the buildings, and hold their own.”

Installation view of Christopher Wool, Crosstown Traffic (2023). Photo by Timothy Schenck.

Installation view of Christopher Wool, Crosstown Traffic (2023). Photo by Timothy Schenck.

Wool’s mosaic, the aptly titled (2023), marks the first time the artist has accepted a public commission. “It was such an exciting idea, to be invited and considered,” Wool said at the event.

It also marks the first time the artist—best known for his wry black-and-white text paintings and abstract canvases—has worked in the medium. “The challenge was the scale,” he said. “I had worked with silkscreen, which has allowed me to enlarge images, and right away I started thinking about different ways of blowing something up. Mosaic seemed perfect.”

Wool based the mosaic, with its swirls of red and black lines against a dark, cloud-like abstraction, on a drawing. “The drawing took a day and figuring out the mosaic took a month,” he said, plus another four months to fabricate it. (Artisan Fabrizio Travisanutt in Spilimbergo, Italy, just north of Venice, took “what little I said and went with it.”)

The finished work is comprised of 140 32-square-foot panels, interlocking pieces that were put together on scaffolding.

Artist Charles Ray at the unveiling of <i>Adam and Eve</i> (2023) at Manhattan West. <br>Photo by Eileen Kinsella.

Artist Charles Ray at the unveiling of Adam and Eve (2023) at Manhattan West.
Photo by Eileen Kinsella.

Sabrina Kenner, head of development, design, and construction for Brookfield Properties, said that the company saw the Manhattan West site as an “ideal place” for art.

“If you look at the topography of the site, the way the grade sort of falls away as you’re going downtown, the grade of the plaza and this public areas created sort of a perch where you could easily see art as you’re driving down Ninth Avenue or as you’re coming across from Moynihan station,” Kenner told Artnet News.

L to R: Artist Christopher Wool, Sabrina Kenner and Jacob King at the unveiling of <i>Crosstown Traffic</i> (2023) at Manhattan West. Photo by Eileen Kinsella.

L to R: Artist Christopher Wool, Sabrina Kenner and Jacob King at the unveiling of Crosstown Traffic (2023) at Manhattan West. Photo by Eileen Kinsella.

“So while we had not at that point identified what the work would be,  we had committed to having a major piece of work there.”

“I give Brookfield so much credit,” added King. “They’re will to take risks. If you’re not willing to take a bit of a risk, you’re never going to end up with a really great artwork.”

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