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Outdoor sculpture of a large phone receiver
Outdoor sculpture of a large phone receiver

Mark Handforth, Painted Phone, 2013, aluminum, bronze and stainless steel, 25 x 4 x 2'.

Miami-based artist Mark Handforth is widely recognized for his large-scale public sculptures. For his latest project, he has created four new works on Governors Island in New York. Along with artist Susan Phillipsz, he is an inaugural artist of the island’s new public art program, which is curated by Tom Eccles. Handforth’s project, “Sidewalk Island,” opens to the public on May 24, 2014, and will be on view until 2016.

GOVERNORS ISLAND IS a strange, unlikely, and wild chunk of nature floating in Upper New York Bay; it is both mannered and totally abandoned. Parts of the island have beautiful rolling hills and empty Georgian mansions; elsewhere there are burned and curdled buildings that endure like a dystopian memory. And still other parts of the island have been completely relandscaped as a defiantly contemporary vision of a park. It’s also usually and weirdly full of activity—wild concerts, retro costume balls, art of every description, performances, hot dog trucks, bicycles, and on and on. I thought a lot about how an artwork could hold its own there but also simultaneously give itself over to all of these varied experiences. I made pieces that want to be surrounded by people—completed by crowds.

“Sidewalk Island” consists of four sculptures situated in close enough proximity to form a conversation among themselves but far enough apart to be a kind of journey, a walk, a surprise. Yankee Hanger is a massive languid hanger that droops into noodley linear form—it is a line in space that frames the people in and around it into a kind of landscape. There is a floating phone caught in a totemic lopped-off bronze tree, Painted Phone, that echoes the wonderful arm of Lady Liberty in the (surprisingly) close distance. Also a small cast iron hydrant, Weeping Hydrant, collapsing into a liquid pool of itself, and Saffron Star, a faceted and disjointed star that balances on a grassy knoll, projecting itself across the water toward Brooklyn. These pieces have some elements of abstract formality consuming meaning and an absurdist nature that verges on melancholia. This basic conversation about the strange poles of living seemed appropriate for a park, for a place where everyone’s dramas are acted out.

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