Teresita Fernandez’s Fata Morgana at the Madison Square Park
Since 2004, the Madison Square Park Conservancy has invited well-known public artists and sculptors—Tony Cragg, Richard Deacon, and Mark di Suvero, among them—to establish exhibitions meant to interact with the park’s visitors. The park, located on 23rd Street and Broadway, sits in a section of Manhattan that is mostly business-oriented. But its guests come from all walks of life, ranging from mothers with their babies in strollers, insurance company workers taking a lunch break, and young people enjoying the ambience of a bit of greenery on the edge of downtown. The exhibitions, increasingly ambitious and well recognized critically within the New York arts community, serve to introduce a diverse population to work of a publicly spirited nature. Almost always, the art is sculptural, as this is the required medium for work in an open space. Madison Square Park’s program represents an increasing awareness on the part of the art world, not only in New York but internationally, that art must be brought into the lives of people who may not necessarily understand or fully appreciate the work taking place before them. There may be problems with this approach, despite its obvious good intentions; sometimes the work can become populist, succumbing to a lack of sophistication.
But this has not been the case at the Madison Square Park, whose exhibitions manage to be determinedly contemporary but also accessible—as is needed in such a public place. Teresita Fernandez’s Fata Morgana, conceived to directly fit above the park’s walkways, is site-specific in the extreme. Consisting of 500 feet of mirrored disks established above the path circling the main part of the park, its middle Oval Lawn, Fata Morgana looks rather like a group of golden metallic clouds, with jagged edges and openings allowing sunlight to pass through to the concrete walk below. The term “fata morgana” means mirage, and in the event of the sculpture’s embellishments, viewers find themselves intrigued by the cloud-like masses set up above them, which establish a second covering in addition to the summer greenery (the show opened June 1st). This exhibition, the first to employ the upper air space as opposed to the park’s grounds, continues Fernandez’s strong work as an artist particularly interested In interacting with a public audience. The 6.2-acre garden attracts more than 50,000 visitors daily, a number that includes a broad audience. Currently, the park offers those enjoying its grounds a bit of vernal attractiveness; as a site, Fata Morgana brilliantly brings culture into play with nature.
Fernandez plays with the green space of the park quite effectively; the flat, irregularly cut golden clouds sit above those walking in the site, effectively summoning their attention skyward, beyond the glass and metal walls of the office buildings surrounding the area. The edges of the disks are meant to suggest foliage, thus echoing the sight of the trees that rise above the sculpture. But, as spectacular as the installation is, questions do come into the discussion of its accomplishments. They have more to do with the public nature of art than the work itself, which effectively fills its mandate. It should be asked whether the environment, so well conceived by Fernandez, in fact scrambles a bit in its attempt to offer a positive experience to its audience. Does the work lose its artistic coherence in light of its wish to connect with a public not necessarily prepared to appreciate its sophistication? Or do these questions reflect what has become a false dichotomy between popular and high culture? Clearly, Fernandez knows how to bridge the legacy of modernism with the needs of New York’s populace. But the success of the endeavor may be more complicated than it seems at first, being directed toward a merger between art and a common audience that is actually difficult to achieve.
Teresita Fernandez, Fata Morgana
On view June 1, 2015 through winter 2015-2016