Jaume Plensa, Behind The Walls, 2019, Rockefeller Center, New York. Courtesy of the artist and Richard Gray Gallery. © Jaume Plensa Studio. Photo by Christopher Burke Studio. Photo by Christopher Burke. Courtesy of the artist and Richard Gray Gallery.
Frieze Sculpture Touches Down in Rockefeller Plaza for Its Inaugural New York Edition
The outdoor sculpture park, which is free and open to the public, showcases works by Joan Miró, Hank Willis Thomas, Walter de Maria, and more
By Liddy Berman, Architectural Digest
April 26, 2019
“I began to think about the layers of history and the concept of Rock Center, ‘a city within a city,’” explains Brett Littman, curator of Frieze Sculpture and director of The Noguchi Museum. “I wanted to move away from the monumental, to think about life-size sculptures and smaller gestures that I could accumulate,” he says of Frieze Sculpture, the newly opened public exhibition of works by 14 artists in Rockefeller Plaza.
“We wanted things that work in scale to the body,” continues Loring Randolph, artistic director of Frieze New York. “No stanchions, no barriers, everything is fully accessible.” This ethos has given Frieze Sculpture a rare quality in a large-scale sculpture show: a sense of intimacy framed by monumentality. The works Littman selected don’t only draw attention to themselves; they awaken the eye to the art and architecture that has defined Rock Center since its earliest days. This show is a study in striking difficult and beautiful balances. It encourages the audience to look within—and without—themselves, and engages with history while maintaining a strong sense of immediacy.
Framed by the entrance to 30 Rock, a Miró sculpture of two interconnected bronze doors stands in the center of the plaza. “It’s like a magic portal that will transport you,” says Littman. Sarah Sze’s nearby work, Split Stone (7:34), evokes a similar feeling. A knee-high boulder struck in half like a geode, it reveals painted renderings of an iPhone photo of a sunset at its center, transporting the viewer from stone to screen to sky. Adjacent is Jose Dávila’s Joint Effort, featuring a rock that appears to float between two plinths, held in precarious equilibrium by a red bungee cord and two hooks.
Nick Cave’s Untitled, an oversize black gramophone supported by an upraised Black Power fist, rests on the other side of the plaza. “Being at the scale that it is,” says Cave, “it allows you to peer inside at this vernacular void that seems endless. It’s these points of entry that provoke us to think differently, or to think about space and infinity and the unknown.”
Artist Ibrahim Mohama also found himself thinking differently about space when conceiving his installation, a series of 50 handmade flags that fly from the flagpoles surrounding Rock Center’s skating rink. “The flags are made out of materials that I’ve used in installations on monuments and buildings across Ghana and the world in the past six years,” he explains. “Now they’ve been transformed into these flags…fabric transferred from a building to a pole, to hang in the wind. It reacts to the elements and the weather—now it’s more activated.”
Beyond Mohama’s flags, we encounter a sculpture of a peacefully sleeping girl with a lamb resting over her in Kiki Smith’s Rest Upon installation. Framed by flowering trees and bright sprays of greenery, the work feels like a fairy-tale tableau, something a lucky woodcutter would stumble upon in an enchanted glade. Soft water features burble nearby, extending the woodland feel of this small oasis in a teeming city center.
Soaring above the Kiki Smith on Fifth Avenue, Jaume Plensa’s Behind The Walls draws the eye up, framing the 40-foot-tall head of a young girl with her hands over her eyes between the sleek lines of skyscrapers. A meditative work, it captures a feeling of introspection, of looking both within and beyond our own internal walls. “I’m always looking at perception in work and life,” says Plensa. “I want to bring out the interrelatedness of people, to introduce a certain tenderness to this busy street, and create a link between architecture and people. Something that could become a poetical shelter in which they feel protected.”
In conceptualizing his work, Nick Cave asked himself, “How do we as artists reach the public through this medium [art] that can also provide insight into our existence?” Frieze Sculpture offers us the opportunity find these insights, and to reawaken ourselves to the beauty, natural and man-made, that surrounds us.
Frieze Sculpture will be on view at Rockefeller Center April 25–June 30. The installation spans both indoor and outdoor spaces.