Fly By Night by Duke Riley
Fly By Night was a project created by Duke Riley, backed by Creativetime and the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It ran on weekends from May 7th to June 19th in 2016. On those weekends, Duke Riley was at the Brooklyn Navy Yard with a whistle, commanding massive flocks of pigeons into the air at dusk. There were small LEDs attached on each of the pigeon’s legs. Duke Riley was a pigeon fancier since he was 13. The piece itself is unique for a myriad of reasons.
On a technical level, its an incredible feat to train thousands of pigeons from varying collections and have them all fly in unison on command off of a battle ship in a navy yard. He made it clear to the curators at creativetime that the project needs to be more than just a technical feat, it needs to forge a poetic connection with the people of New York. There was an earlier time in New York, where pigeon coops were on every rooftop. It was a cultural insignia by the people of New York. Now in this modern day, we have drones in the sky and the pigeon culture of New York is dying.
For Duke, pigeons represent the collision of the natural and the urban worlds. He lived with pigeons for many years and he saw them as reflections of his life. Urban explorers, leaving home and moving from one rooftop to the next. The project’s first intention is to illuminate the receding pigeon fancier culture in NYC, but the connection that Duke explores is so expansive that it takes on so many different forms. The visual world that Duke and his collaborators made was incredibly successful and creativetime extended the project with a waitlist of 40,000 people. Pigeon carrier culture extends far beyond NYC and Duke researched pigeon carrier culture and its relationship to nautical communities in Cuba, East Africa and China. Duke Riley’s temporary public art piece is one of the most profound and moving art instillations in NYC that I have had the pleasure of researching.
Gay Liberation Monument
The Gay Liberation Monument was created by George Segal. These four bronze statues (two seated, two standing) are in Christopher Park, across from the internationally known, historic Stonewall Inn. These sculptures are inextricably tied to the Gay Rights Movement in the United States and their message is still relevant today. Segal’s intent and the intent of the Mildred Andrews fund that commissioned the piece was “to show the affection that is the hallmark of gay people”. Segal captured this intent through creating gay characters in repose in a park. After all that the gay community continues to work for, Segal depicted one of the end goals: a comfortable public existence. The piece was cast in 1980, but it did not get community and design approvals until 1982 and then was further delayed by park renovations. The piece was designated as a National Historic Landmark in March of 2000 and he died 3 months later at 75 years old.
I had the pleasure of seeing Segal’s work in Christopher Park a few weeks ago. His technique of painting his sculptures with all-white plaster brings a different feeling to the expressions in the sculpture’s faces. Although the bodies themselves are in a state of repose, their almost ghostly color is unsettling and hard to shake. Their presence is complex and left me with a better understanding of what happened in Greenwich Village in the 1980’s. More importantly, Segal masterfully references the struggles of the gay community from the past without chaining his sculptures to that particular time. They represent the work that has been done, the present day struggles and the work that the future holds. No matter where in time, Segal provided and continues to provide the space in Christopher Park to reflect and meditate on historic land.
Washington Square Park Arch by Stanford White
The Washington Square Park Arch was designed by Stanford White in 1895. It stands at the bottom of 5th Avenue in Manhattan. The city of New York funded the piece and it replaced a wooden arch that was put in place in 1889. The work was inspired by George Washington and was erected as a centennial anniversary of his inauguration. Although Washington played a key role in the beginning of this country, there are more than enough monuments dedicated to him, all within walking distance of this arch. More important than another George Washington monument is all of the historical moments that have happened inside of Washington Square Park through the ages. I think it makes more sense to honor the voices that don’t have monuments or official representation in the NYC. Especially considering that Washington Square has been the space for union marches, beatnik poets and protesters.