Art on Tour
One of the questions we often hear at Madison Square Park Conservancy is “what happens to the commissioned works of art following their stay in the park?” The answer lies in an informal network of nonprofit institutions — museums with campuses, sculpture parks, public gardens, and public art programs. In recent years, the majority of our projects have traveled to other venues, with the goal of expanding the reach of the Conservancy’s art program to increased audiences and bringing fresh eyes to the artist’s work. When a work is installed in a new setting, ideas around site specificity are challenged and reinvigorated; the work’s strength and adaptability are confirmed; and a conceived theme is transferred from its original site and transformed with new meaning.
For every commission in Madison Square Park, artists create new work that is visually inspiring, challenging, structurally durable, and committed to ideas around how a 6.2 acre public park welcoming 50,000 visitors daily forms the conceptual context for each commission. Artists construct outdoor work within the framework of democratic context. There is no threshold to cross, no fees to pay. There is complete access. The program has become essential in demonstrating the expansiveness of artmaking today. In response to the park and to questions of publicness and communities, artists push the boundaries of their practices to experiment with materiality, scale, and ideas. The ambition of the program expands each year alongside the diverse reach of visionary artists.
Martin Puryear’s forty-foot high Big Bling opened in Madison Square Park in 2016. The artist’s magnificent temporary sculpture next took pride of place on the banks of the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia through the Association for Public Art. Big Bling was acquired by MASS MoCA where it remains on view at the southern perimeter of museum grounds in the heart of downtown North Adams. Diana Al-Hadid’s Delirious Matter, an exhibition of six female figures created in polymer gypsum and fiberglass, opened in the park in 2018. It traveled to two venues in Nashville: the Frist Museum and Cheekwood Estate & Gardens. Following, it was installed on campus through the Williams College Museum of Art. Abigail DeVille’s Light of Freedom reflected the despair and exultation of the pandemic, protests, and the political turmoil of 2020. This work continues its tour. It traveled to The Momentary in Bentonville, Arkansas; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC; and will soon open on the campus of Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, through the Gund Gallery.
Leonardo Drew’s City in the Grass was the artist’s first outdoor work when it debuted in 2019. It then toured to the North Carolina Museum of Art, Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson, and the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford. The artist has since used colorful fragments from City in the Grass in ongoing sculpture. When Hugh Hayden created Brier Patch, one-hundred wooden elementary-school style desks that erupt with tree branches, he envisioned the work in separate sections to summon a classroom. Brier Patch was installed in the 164-acre Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park at the North Carolina Museum of Art after its debut in New York in 2021 and remains on view through this fall at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC. Three water towers with embedded interior language in LEDs prompted dialogue on migration and home in Ivan Navarro’s This Land Is Your Land. The work opened in February 2014 and was on tour to Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, North Park Center in Dallas, Busan Museum in South Korea, and The Momentary. It remains at Art OMI in Ghent, New York. Erwin Redl’s Whiteout brought 900 transparent lighted spheres to the Oval Lawn across the dark fall and winter of 2017. When the project traveled to the Oklahoma Contemporary in Oklahoma City, Redl created a different configuration responding to the site. And Shahzia Sikander’s Havah…to breathe, air, life currently in the park and on the rooftop of the neighboring Appellate Division Courthouse, was co-commissioned by Public Art at the University of Houston System. Havah… will open there on October 14, 2023.
Following travel, each commission ultimately reverts to the artist. Sections or entire pieces can be conveyed into future work. Other projects have been acquired by public institutions — like Jaume Plensa’s Echo, 2011, installed on the shoreline of Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park beginning in 2014 and Leo Villareal’s BUCKYBALL, 2012, acquired by Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville — or placed in private collections. Many projects that we’ve commissioned have a long-term, ongoing role in galvanizing viewers beyond the spaces of Madison Square Park.