Summer 2002


The rude fate of a public sculpture

Nina Katchadourian

The first time I noticed the sculpture, it was not very easy to see it. Three dense bushes had bullied their way in front of it, and they grew bigger and more brazen with each passing month. I wondered when the grounds maintenance people would notice and give them a trim. They finally did, but took the radical approach of removing the bushes altogether. The sculpture was now shockingly exposed, standing on a plain stretch of dirt, and completely vulnerable to the public eye. It looked like a furry animal that had been completely and inappropriately shaved.

The orange sculpture was a tripod of sorts, made of I-beams with a Bert-like tuft of metal hair on top. It was positioned in an awkward, in-between buffer zone designated for landscaping, sandwiched between the New York City Technical College building and a street in downtown Brooklyn. A bit too small to be monumental, and a bit too large to relate to the people walking by, it stood slightly above them, uncomfortable with its height, like a tall pre-teen. It looked like the kind of sculpture that had started its life with aspirations of a long tenure in front of the Seagram’s Building, later to be put to pasture at Storm King. Given this, it was even more painful to see it stuck in purgatory at the corner of Jay Street and Tech Place.

Photos Nina Katchadourian

It became a landmark for me, and I always looked for it when passing by. For better or worse, the bushes never grew back, and so it was easy to notice that graffiti and doodles occasionally appeared on its skin. The vandalism was done somewhat half-heartedly (“Your mother is a ?”) and never had anything to do with the sculpture itself. Somehow, it did not seem to elicit a reaction from anyone: it was simply a marker that “there is art in front of our building,” rather than expressing a concept or reacting to a physical space.

In January 2002, New York City Technical College underwent an external renovation, and a blue scaffolding “skirt” was built around the perimeter of the building. Now, it looked like the sculpture was forced to slump in order to fit under this new structure. The scaffolding had been chopped up in awkward ways to accommodate the top of the sculpture. Large construction vehicles and dumpsters were brought onto the side street to cart away debris, and for several weeks a garbage truck was parked with its rude, gaping rear-end provocatively facing the sculpture. A few days later, a long streamer of yellow caution tape was anchored to a lamppost on one end and the sculpture on the other. The I-beams, which before had perhaps reflected the artist’s interest in the sculptural qualities of industrial materials, now seemed merely part of the language of demolition.

A conversation with an official at New York City Technical College turned up the name of the artist, Allen Mooney, and the title, Iroquois Walk. This Native American reference was intriguing (was the Bert hair in fact some kind of headdress?) but then on the artist’s website the sculpture is entitled Iroquis Walk. In this photograph, the picture is taken from behind the sculpture, in effect showing us its point of view. It strides out toward the street and into the world. The grass is rich and green beneath its feet, and its orange paint glows in the sun. I wondered if the artist had helped pick the site and what the real title was, but the phone call went unreturned. I wondered if he knew how it was doing these days.

Nina Katchadourian is an artist who lives in Brooklyn and teaches at Brown University. She exhibits with Debs & Co in New York and with Catharine Clark Gallery in San Francisco.

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