The coast of Chelsea may just become a new public art destination. An exhibition of monumental sculpture by George Rickey and Kenneth Snelson is expected to be approved by the Hudson River Trust, the organization that maintains the five-mile park hugging the west coast of Manhattan, and then installed this summer (exact dates have not yet been finalized). The trust is also considering a number of other proposals from galleries and art funds to organize installations, events, and performances in the park. “It’s not a new idea to put art there, but it is a matter of the right exhibition and the ability of a group to execute a project,” trust president Madelyn Wils told ARTINFO. “This area in Chelsea is perfect for an art installation.” Nevertheless, as is the case with most public art projects, the exhibition is not without its opponents.
The show, which would occupy a plot of park between 24th and 22nd Streets on the water, was proposed and will be produced and funded by Marlborough Gallery, which represents geometric sculptor Snelson and the estate of cube-loving sculptor Rickey. The plan is for the gallery to revisit a 2006 exhibition at the Palais Royal in Paris titled “Two Americans in Paris: Sculptures by George Rickey and Kenneth Snelson.” The short-term show would present eight sculptures by the two artists, both of whom work with stainless steel and explore geometric forms and movement in their work. (“They may weigh a ton, but they appear to float, allowing themselves to be penetrated by the surrounding space, which they manage to distill but not overpower,” wrote critic Béatrice Comte in Le Figaro after the sculptors’s Paris debut.) “The Hudson River Trust has approved a proposal in concept, and now we’re entering into a technical phase,” said Dale Lanzone, Marlborough’s president of international public art, explaining that the gallery must complete the necessary engineering studies to ensure that the sculptures can safely withstand the elements along the river.
The proposal has ruffled some feathers, however, among those who believe a commercial gallery should not be allowed to produce a public art exhibition, a move that provides its artists substantial free advertising and exposure. (Similar squabbles have arisen over the Park Avenue sculpture commissions.) Last week, about a dozen people appeared at a community board meeting to oppose the installation, according to a report on DNAInfo. Among the opposition was Deley Gazinelli, the founder and executive director of a group called “Chelsea Sculpture Park,” which he established several years ago with the intention to build an “New York City’s first museum without walls” in the same location where Marlborough is planning its own exhibition. "Marlborough is not being a good neighbor," he said. "Chelsea Sculpture Park, a non-profit organization, is committed to help raise funds to maintain and preserve the Chelsea Cove site for future generations," he noted, adding that the vast majority of public art projects are conducted through non-profit organizations in order to "prevent a commercial business usage of a public space for its own financial self-interest."
The trust, for its part, emphasized that it welcomes proposals from all parties and carefully weighs potential conflicts of interest when making a decision. (A spokesperson for the trust also confirmed Chelsea Sculpture Park is not an organization that was established by the trust and does not act as an agent on behalf of it.) “The project has to be something that, in our opinion, the public would benefit from,” said Wils, noting that whatever organization is behind the exhibition is expected to fully finance the project, regardless of whether it is commercial or non-profit. The trust, she explained, distinguishes between those who seek to use the park for commercial purposes (to whom it charges a fee), and those who suggest projects that will serve a broader public. “That’s up to our discretion,” she said, “but in this case, we’re talking about a museum-quality exhibit. It’s exactly the type of art that would work well with the Chelsea site, both in scope and scale, and we would be thrilled to have it in the park.”