Outside Art

Three exhibits that incorporate the great (NYC) outdoors

3. Installation view of The Roof Garden Commission Pierre Huyghe at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2015


September is a lovely month in New York, as the hazy heat of summer gives way to the crisp sunshine of fall. It’s the perfect time of year to enjoy outdoor art, and these three exhibits provide a nice opportunity to see works that mingle with their environments. Now get outside and play!

Conceptualist Pierre Huyghe has worked with a wide variety of media—both organic and man-made—in his exploration of time-based themes and the different states of life. His latest (untitled) installation is the third in a new series of site-specific commissions for the Met’s Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden. This subtle, intriguing exhibit is (literally) meant to be part of a bigger picture, that is, Central Park and the city itself, both visible via breathtaking views. The installation’s elements include cement paving slabs that have been upturned to reveal the dirt beneath; a boulder of Manhattan schist, the bedrock upon which this city was built; and a large aquarium tank, in which a boulder of lava floats above a mound of sand. Tiny lampreys and tadpole shrimp—ancient creatures that have been around for millions of years—swim around the bottom. The tank’s transparent walls intermittently turn opaque white, obscuring the elements within. There are many ways to contemplate Huyghe’s show but one of the simplest might be to appreciate the juxtaposition between nature and artificiality, and how the two are not as far apart as we sometimes think. (Through 11/1, 1000 Fifth Ave. at 82nd St., Manhattan)

Another outdoor exhibit that interacts with its surroundings is Mary Heilmann: Sunset, a site-specific installation at the new Whitney that inaugurates the museum’s largest outdoor gallery. Heilmann came to prominence in the 1970s with vividly colorful abstract paintings, some of which incorporated a stair-step motif. In Sunset this motif emerges via two large, shocking pink panels that climb the museum’s concrete north façade, a playful evocation of the Whitney’s own architecture. Complementing this are bright, multi-hued chairs designed by the artist that are scattered around the expansive terrace, inviting visitors to sit and appreciate views of the building and the neighborhood. Putting things into perspective is a monitor showing Swan Song, a video Heilmann made with Kembra Pfahler in 1982 that depicts the destruction of the old West Side Highway and the warehouses that once dominated this now trendy locale. Sunset is both a thoughtful ode to the past and a joyful celebration of the present. (Through 9/27, 99 Gansevoort Street, Manhattan)

Madison Square Park has been the site of several intriguing art installations, and Teresita Fernández: Fata Morgana is no exception. This 500-foot-long work, arranged in six sections above several of the park’s walkways, is MSP’s largest, most ambitious outdoor sculpture to date. Fernández, whose works often involve perception and the psychology of looking, is best known for her large-scale public sculptures and unconventional use of materials. Like many of her works, Fata Morgana is inspired by landscape and natural phenomena. Named after the mirage that is seen as a horizontal band of light right above the horizon, the installation is composed of more than 200 rounded, mirrored panels with scalloped edges that echo the leaves in surrounding trees. These perforated forms, suspended above park visitors, create abstract flickering effects as well as intricate patterns on the ground as sunlight filters through the canopy. The result is, in the artist’s own words, “a ghost-like, sculptural, luminous mirage that both distorts the landscape and radiates golden light.” (Through Winter 2016, Madison Ave. at 23rd St.)