High Art: The High Line adds public art to its neighborhood offerings

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A great city is often marked by its confluence of architecture and nature. A century and a half ago in Manhattan, that combination created Central Park; today's incarnation is The High Line, running from Gansevoort to West 34th Street near the West Side Highway. The ratio of beams to botany may be skewed toward to the urban end, but The High Line nonetheless offers city dwellers a bit of nature, earth and plant life, even high above ground.

And like Central Park, which has been a vast backdrop for the visual arts (perhaps most memorably with Christo and Jeanne-Claude's The Gates in 2005), The High Line offers its own canvas of sorts: a 25-by-75-foot billboard positioned at 18th Street and 10th Avenue. High Line Billboard is the latest initiative from High Line Art, which commissions public art projects and installations from local and international artists for the park.

On display from Feb. 1?29 is "Developing Tray #2" by New York artist Anne Collier, a massive-scale photograph depicting a print of an open eye inside a developing tray. The image is at once a finished work of art and a depiction of art in progress.

The effect of an open eye (the artist's own) staring at the viewer is particularly arresting given its immense proportions. "It is confrontational, sensual and voyeuristic at the same time," said Cecilia Alemani, the Donald R. Mullen Jr. curator and director of High Line Art.

For the artist, displaying her work on a New York City billboard is a milestone in itself. "The street in New York is full of distractions-it's chaotic," Collier said. "I hope that [my work] might interruptsomeone's expectation of what might typically be seen on a billboard."

If the High Line is the convergence of architecture and nature in Manhattan, the High Line Billboard is the convergence of street art and gallery space. For painters, photographers and mixed media artists, the opportunity to display their work on such a grand canvas amidst the steel of the rail lines and the city streets offers wider visibility than an exhibition at The Whitney-and perhaps comparable recognition.

High Line Art, jointly presented by Friends of the High Line and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, was founded in 2009 with the goal of enabling artists "to think of creative ways to engage with the uniqueness of the architecture and design of the High Line." High Line founders Joshua David and Robert Hammond had aspirations early on for the historic rail line to become an arena for artists, and the breadth of High Line Art today (which now also oversees a projection screen for silent films) has become a draw to the landmark site.

High Line Art has presented sound installations, sculptures, experimental films, paintings-even dance performances. The previous commission for the High Line Billboard was a gigantic representation of a $100,000 bill, created by John Baldessari, entitled, "The First $100,000 I Ever Made."

Art in the public sphere lends itself to a different kind of reception and a different viewer relationship than art in galleries or museums; the environment of buildings, bridges, cars and crowds contributes to the viewer's experience. "I'm interested to see how the image operates against the visual backdrop of the city," said Collier.

-Lonnie Firestone

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