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Some say that New York is not the center of the world. I disagree. As I type these words into my computer this early morning, alone in my study on the Lower East Side, I call up my clan. My conviction of centrality is also an aspect of community as it is located and addressed in contemporary public interest art. In the realm of public art, these dichotomies can become physical, time-bound, interconnected, and complicated.

Artists and audiences may encompass and transcend geographical sites. And such works sometimes switch principal players as well as roles; reverse chronology, and trick perceptions of duration. The essay I am now writing is partly a story about public-interest artist Alan Finkel, who lives a block away from me on Ludlow Street.

This morning Finkel is faxing to Japan appropriately the land of the rising sun-although it is actually eight in the evening there , where he is collaborating on a project that has been in progress for four years. More about this later. I have been asked to consider public art here, emphasizing collaboration and its contemporary tradition.

This is a difficult subject. A history of collaboration that includes its processes and participating assemblies is still largely invisible after more than a quarter-century of sustained activity. In broad terms, collaboration is both methodology and structure, motivated by and bound to a particular community-whether local, virtual, global, or microscopic. Collaborative art of the kind that has interested me over these years has been sculptural, performative, and literary, yet within the rubric of the visual arts. Likewise, the identity of artists in the public arena, especially those, like Finkel, who do not produce works in ature styles, is unfamiliar; their work contested as either labor or art.

Creating community, more laborious and intractable than in past decades, can also be a lonely enterprise today. It is perhaps the very loneliness of the search for commonality and the body politic that most characterizes contemporary public interest art. Yet, paradoxically, recognition that collaboration is essential to public art is assumed now more than ever before. Freedman affirms that collaboration is the very key to successful public projects.

I am among those who make up the smaller segment of spectators for art in public. Although I enjoy becoming part of the surprised accidental audience who may come upon works created in cemeteries, on buses, and around open fields, on river barges, at restaurants, or under bridges, I actually go looking for such works. My interest is in the story of a collaboration, and this focus brings me to want to view a piece and sometimes participate in it from its conception to its realization. Following the efforts of artists for years and even decades at a time, I also come to see how their bodies of art-their lifelong sagas and epics-develop and sustain themselves.

Reporting and reflecting on these longer scenarios is at the heart of my own lifetime endeavor and my most essential work. Even sculptures or installations by single artists displayed in museums can arise from layers of collaboration and evoke their constituencies. This surface is literally dotted with the names of individuals spelled in Braille. One can feel the wall which is smoothed to the touch with Vaseline to tangibly remember those who have died of AIDS, or sit on the generous artist-made bench in the center and look around at a congregation of loved ones whose lost presence is remembered and mourned.

Public art goes where the public goes. I met Guillermo Gomez-Pena at 6 p. In the meantime, live models inhabited the book-laden windows, portraying mix-and-match Latino stereotypes for those walking down Sixth Avenue in Chelsea on this summer evening to see.

As we watched passersby do double takes, Gomez-Pena told me of his plans to perform next in urban and suburban malls. What will viewers and readers at Art in General take back to their inner sanctums? How will their metamorphoses emerge? The abundant foliage at Snug Harbor is more yellow-green overall at this time of the year. The orderly balance of the formal gardens, though, reminds me of the stylized conventions of such negotiations, and contrasts with the chaos of the propagation room, where vines grow wild and tropical flowers bloom for only a day.

The juxtaposition of harmony with ferment inspired the installation, which is named for a phrase in E. The process of creating a work of art is similar to the process of creating a garden. Their disposition allowed the works to step out of their restricted conceptual territory and mingle with crowds of students, teachers, administrators, and visitors to the university.

This is the first such effort at the Neuberger by Collischan, who has distinguished herself as a courageous curator of socially relevant public art. In a sense, this nascent display sums up the stature of the genre and its practitioners. Appropriate to this view, the exhibition recognized all invitees for their prior achievements.

Elders Louise Bourgeois and George Rickey were singled out for special honor. During the installation, I spoke with Maren Hassinger, who was placing pink plastic bags in cherry trees. Her contribution, different from many others in remaining ephemeral and impermanent, was located beside a narrow out-of-the-way campus road. She asked those watching her progress to write a wish for the world. Putting mine into a bag with the others, Hassinger rose on a cherry picker and tied my message to a branch. But the contingencies of organizing such a show must include the health, availability, and agendas of its selected artists.

Some pieces had to be transported from other places. The Biennial contains only two artist collaborations. Rick Lowe, D. I have seen the great majority of her live works on site since During the past 15 years, when I have been a Manhattan resident and full-time writer perpetually on deadline, Lacy has visited New York en route to wherever her work takes her. For me, dialogue with Lacy and her work through documentation is not a secondhand experience.

Involvement by this means yields a different, though wholly primary, encounter, confirming that there is more than one way of kno wing the creative process and production of another. Readers of art magazines most often see the artworks treated in photographs and texts. Visitors to museums wear earphones and listen to the observations of a disembodied expert voice, thus mediating their transaction with the phenomena before them. Friends meet on La Cienega in Los Angeles or West Broadway in SoHo to exchange perceptions and evaluations of their individual gallery surveys, cross-referencing their views and often taking away a hybrid notion or two.

The power of these performances, Lacy insists, comes from the beauty of the people who participate within the visual and social frame, and the wonder of their shared experience. At p. Six are professionals; six, community members who shared their stories at workshops at two Lower East Side Settlement houses. In the piece year-old Ida tells of leaving her Jewish family in Brooklyn 65 years ago to dance in vaudeville, while she is swept aloft in a graceful pas de deux by her young partner.

She is a Yoruba priestess; he, gay, a painter, and a Buddhist. Their voices are heard over microphones and amid music composed by Jason Kao Hwang, and a visual de by Melinda Hunt. Tiny wooden caskets with monogrammed blankets represent children buried there during earlier epidemics. De Bretteville has placed 21 medallions of granite and colored concrete, 24 inches square by 6 inches deep, in the sidewalks at four entry points. We learn. The Far East offered economical meals at midday and dancing every night.

Julia Di Lullo, longtime sales manager at Horowitz Brothers, was there for the dedication of stars in , and she reflected that the mission of her job over 20 years mandated her desire to help people. The Ninth Square district looks more complete in its renovation in , but it has not been occupied as I, and certainly Sheila, had expected.

Many buildings still await commercial and residential tenants. Let me explain for a minute why I want Alan Finkel to see works of public art with me and to meet with their makers. Sheila Levrant de Bretteville has been my friend and colleague for a quarter-century but has never met Alan. This fact would not ordinarily be important.

But to me the two artists are allies in the same humanistic campaign. This geography cannot be observed at first sight but must be touched over time, as I continually come to know the unseen elephant called public interest art. I began traveling to sites of public art with Finkel some months ago when, in preparation to write about collaboration here, I attempted to include his work for the Haizuka Earthworks Projects in Soryo-Cho, Hiroshima, Japan, but found that I knew too little about his art to have a clear picture of his current efforts.

It is the nature of community-based public art endeavors to be only partially seeable at any moment and, more than not, to remain incomplete. Even so, the intentions and the production of public interest artists can be found. These are invariably proposals and miniature models of things to come.

But the scope of his vision as well as its implementation over the years could not become fully visible by experiencing these phenomena. Artists such as Finkel and others I have mentioned here are not self-described avant-garde leaders of style or public taste. Neither are they Post-modernists-second-generation makers who comment on existing art objects or celebrities. Artists working in the public interest are both local and global citizens. Updike, like Finkel, feels a particular affinity with Japan. The seasons and the love of nature moved me: a bent and beautiful pine tree; a man rowing a boat across a placid lake; snow falling in the mountains.

Finkel has had a years-long journey of first-hand experience in Japan. He was able to bring me to his Japan-where I have never been-to become a member of his collaboration process and to write this essay as a part of a work in progress for both of us. Arlene Raven is a writer and editor of numerous books on contemporary art, including Art in the Public Interest.

Her article on Alan Finkel will appear in a future issue of Sculpture. Wood, rubber, Braille, vaseline, and tile, 14 x 18 x 22 ft. Mixed-media installation. Abaca paper, branches, garden implements, and steel.

Dimensions variable. Turning Point: Under Construction, Photo by Daniel Collins. Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Path of Stars detail , Granite and colored concrete, 21 stars each 24 x 24 x 6 in.

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New York Story: In Public Art, Artists and Audiences Transcend Geography