artforum.com / July 1, 2009
THE FREE FERRY TRIP from Manhattan to Governors Island, a former strategic coastal fortification in New York Harbor that also played host to a 1988 summit meeting between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, may only take a few minutes, but on Saturday it was easy to feel more thoroughly transported, such was the contrast between the grimy city and its verdant neighbor to the immediate south. Indeed, a uniformed tour guide loitering by an official map at the boat’s arrival point seemed to have been lulled into a near stupor: “Plot oh-nine?” he shrugged dreamily in response to a query about Creative Time’s inaugural public-art quadrennial, opening that afternoon. “What’s that?” The project I was asking after—fully titled “Plot 09: This World & Nearer Ones” and curated by Mark Beasley—comprises nineteen commissioned and site-responsive works scattered around the territory’s open spaces and in its historic buildings. And while hunting public art often seems—like playing golf—to be a good way to ruin a nice walk, Beasley’s selection sounded promising.
While a few of the works make good use of an outdoor setting—the sight of children playing around a giant black wind chime designed by Klaus Weber to emit the discordant and supposedly demonic diabolus in musica tritone was particularly affecting—the majority are installed in otherwise disused houses and other buildings, five of which are not usually accessible to the public. The diminutive Saint Cornelius Chapel, for example, makes a perfectly ethereal setting for Anthony McCall’s light installation Between You and I, while Isle of the Dead, an art-world horror flick by Brooklyn-based collective the Bruce High Quality Foundation, thrills audiences in a tumbledown movie theater signposted with dire warnings about the possible presence of harmful substances. Adam Chodzko’s more contemplative video Echo, meanwhile, plays in an old ballroom, though the interior’s inky darkness often had visitors blundering, zombielike, into one another.
Having trekked out to the far-flung Lima Pier to hear Susan Philipsz’s sound work By My Side and spotted the artist cycling past on the walk back, my companion and I ended our island sojourn at Nolan Park, where Teresa Margolles’s Muro Baleado (Shot-Up Wall), an embattled cinder-block facade relocated from the artist’s Mexican hometown, was still being dutifully reassembled, and old-timey trio Tuba Skinny were serenading picnickers in the late afternoon light.
The following day saw the opening of several projects at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center: an exhibition by science-obsessed San Francisco–based artist Michael Joaquin Grey, a mural and publication by Colombian Carlos Motta, a retrospective celebrating ten years of the MoMA/P.S. 1 Young Architect’s Program, and this year’s winning entry in the competition, architectural firm MOS’s outdoor installation Afterparty. Conceived as an “urban shelter,” the self-cooling structure has the look of a Bedouin tent, its dark thatched spires protruding above the courtyard’s concrete perimeter wall. On Sunday afternoon, visitors lounged on benches, enjoying the shade as the temperature climbed. P.S. 1 exhibitions director Tony Guerrero, sporting a fetching seersucker suit and straw boater, worked the crowd, and the customary pop-up bar did a brisk trade.
In the first-floor gallery that houses the YAP review, an atypically hirsute Klaus Biesenbach played the tour guide for actress Kim Cattrall. “Join us!” he piped at me after an over-the-top introduction, before whisking his celebrated charge away. Taking the mercurial pair’s place, the show’s curators, Christopher Barley and Troy Conrad Therrien, accompanied me in admiring a photo of an unmistakable—and beaming—Philip Johnson taken at an early celebration. “Apparently, there’s also a shot somewhere of him manning the DJ booth,” they laughed, tickled at the idea of the late bespectacled modernist icon rinsing it out for New York’s club kids. The venue’s annual Warm-Up series of dance parties kicks off on July 4—star spotters of all specializations should stake their claims now.
Images: Agnes Gund with Kim Cattrall; Susan Philipsz