Urban Oases

The city got wet and wild last month by simultaneously activating the fountains in City Hall Park (Park Row and Broadway) and Central Park's Bethesda Terrace (enter at 72nd Street), and after last year's long, hot summer made dirty-dusty by a season-long drought, it was more welcome than a Slip 'N Slide at a fourth-grade birthday party in August. This town's got hundreds of high-pressure faucets to get splashy-splashy with: Not least, the huge geyser at Lincoln Center Plaza; the enormous, shimmering reflecting pool across from Radio City Music Hall at 1251 Avenue of the Americas; and the streams playfully spurting from the flopping fish sculptures amid the giant pink topiaries lining Rockefeller Center Promenade. [spartos]

The Russian and Turkish Baths, on East 10th Street
photo: Greg Miller
The Russian and Turkish Baths, on East 10th Street

One could spend days wending through the city's parks and public spaces visiting sculpture and often site-specific installations dropped, as respites, into our grid by the Public Art Fund. From CandyBAM (Vik Muniz's inspired wrapping of the under-construction Brooklyn Academy of Music in the photographic facade of a gingerbread house) to MetroSpective (the reinstallation in City Hall Park of works originally exhibited at Brooklyn's MetroTech Center), PAF is responsible for depositing contemporary art in sometimes surprising public spaces. This summer brings Mark Handforth's "Lamppost" which recasts a street lamp in the role of art object, design stalwart, and surreal curiosity (Doris C. Freedman Plaza, Central Park). Mariko Mori's "Wave UFO" welcomes visitors to experience the melding of physical and visual stimuli as they connect to her cosmic dreamworld and stark silver sculpture through video projection (and brain-data-gathering electrodes) (590 Madison Avenue). At 80 Arts, a once-dilapidated building (80 South Hanson Place, Brooklyn) that is undergoing renovation behind Clara Williams's "The Price (Giving In Gets You Nowhere)" a mechanized marionette is installed in the third-floor windows. Williams's piece serves as a cuckoo clock of sorts, calling out hourly during the day. And Wim Delvoye transforms construction-site ephemera into singular works of Gothic motif. His "Gothic" series consists of life-size replicas of Caterpillar excavators, cement mixers, barricades, and traffic cones rendered in filigreed Cor-Ten steel (Madison Square Park and Doris C. Freedman Plaza, Central Park). [snow]

In-ground pools and swimming holes down the dirt road seem a world away from this concrete jungle. When I was growing up, nautical sport in the city meant a foot-deep inflatable bowl for wading, a run through the deluge of a hydrant, or a trip to the derelict public pool where precocious tykes worried about the less gifted who relieved themselves in the water. But the NYC Parks Department has cleaned up this act, sending its auditors on a rampage to ensure cleanliness and safety. And chlorine continuously kills bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other nasties, so don't be afraid to go into the water. Astoria Pool (19th Street and 23rd Drive, Queens, 800-201-PARK) still features some of its 1936 detailing: "No Water Pistols" signs and mushroom fountains. Long hailed as Manhattan's nicest pool, Asser Levy (23rd Street and Asser Levy Place, 212-447-2020) sits by the East River. Brooklynites can visit up-and-coming Red Hook (Henry and Clinton Streets, 718-722-3211). All offer impressive views, and best of all, they're free! [kim]

Every Wednesday and Saturday afternoon when the weather gets nice, a rotating group of happy folks practices taking falls at the southeastern edge of Central Park's Sheep Meadow (enter at 72nd Street). They're amateur, self-taught circus geeks, practicing the art of acro-balance, a/k/a acrobatic tumbling, partner balancing, or adagio, and of "giggling your head off while doing a handstand between someone else's knees." These moves combine the centering effects of yoga with the openness and trust of partnering and the childish fun of rolling around in the grass. For those who want formal instruction, Circus Minimus will be teaching Circus Yoga for Kids and Families in Brooklyn in June and July (circusminimus.com; 212-874-3976); but the kids in the park should be delighted to show you a few "ta-da!" poses. [kamenetz]

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