As we have pointed out before, the Department of Parks and Recreation is totally down with traffic-blocking art installations but not cool with unregulated artist-vendors because said vendors allegedly block traffic and mess with public spaces’ aesthetic.
Yea, we are confused by the Department’s approach, too.
And we’re learning that another aesthetic-altering art installation is planned for the High Line.
As mentioned on Gallerist, Jennifer West will install a mile-long length of celluloid film in a day-long “performance” Sept. 13.
“Visitors to the park will walk on the strip, or otherwise manipulate it, and Ms. West will turn the resulting material into a movie.”
To be clear, we neither oppose West’s work nor the planned Columbus Circle living room project — public art is awesome, and we support it even if it changes parks’ aesthetics or traffic flow.
However, what we’re trying to understand is how the City can argue against artist-vendors in court on aesthetic and congestion grounds, as they have, while simultaneously pushing these other projects.
Here’s why: if the City maintains this aesthetic and congestion point of view, and we look closely at all of the context, recent approvals of major public artworks suggest that it’s not aesthetic and congestion concerns per se.
Rather, it seems to be the cause and content of the aesthetic and congestion concerns: The City seems OK with some art but not OK with other art.
Now, to be fair, the City has told us that it has nothing to do with the art.
Rather, officials counter, Parks and Recreation wants to regulate vending.
City attorney Gabriel Taussig, NYC Law Department’s Administrative Law Division chief, told us recently:
“The comparison between art vending and an art installation is truly ‘apples to oranges.’ The regulation of art vending on public streets or in parks is in no way based on an assessment of the art being sold. It is based solely on content-neutral time, place, and manner considerations. In other words, the activity being regulated is vending, and in regulating vending, the government seeks to balance the interests and rights of both vendors and the public.”
But, this doesn’t clear up our confusion: The City says it has to regulate vending because it can infringe upon the rights of “the public,” though it seems like the same case can also be made about public artwork. Can’t altering the look of a park and changing its traffic flow count as a “rights” violation?
Again, we’re for public artwork and not arguing against installations.
We’re just trying to get to the bottom of the City’s policies.
We’ve reached out for explanation and will update when we hear back.
Taussig issued this statement: “To suggest that the City allows art installations without considering their public impact is simply wrong. However, since the effects of vending at a certain location may be different than the effects of an art installation, it may be that an art installation will be appropriate at a location where vending restrictions are warranted, or visa versa.”
Follow Victoria Bekiempis @vicbekiempis.