By Lisa Kava
If you are seeking unique outdoor art close to home this summer, look no further than Riverside Park. Lifelong Upper West Sider, Karin Bravin, has curated an extensive public art exhibition called “Re:Growth,” which opened on June 10th and will remain on display until September 15th.
The exhibition covers miles of Riverside Park, starting at West 64th Street and traveling all the way up to West 151st. “Re:Growth” features works by 24 artists in a variety of mediums, including sculpture, interactive augmented reality pieces, flags, banners, and photographs. It coincides with the 35th anniversary of the Riverside Park Conservancy.
Art installations are spread throughout the park, some by the water, and some on the upper promenade. It might take a full afternoon to see them all, but you can also make several visits, exploring one section of the park at a time. Each installation has signage with a QR code that can be scanned to learn more about the artist and the particular piece of work. All are blended in with the natural beauty of Riverside Park.
Two photographs from Artist Joiri Minaya’s “Containers” series, which can be found on the promenade around West 85th and West 89th Streets, depict women wearing bodysuits “with prints that feature representations of tropical nature interacting with landscapes.” The pieces mix right in with the surrounding green plantings as if they are part of the scenery.
Art can be found anywhere: in the grass, on fences, or on rocks. Some pieces may take you by surprise as you stroll along. Keep your eyes wide open and walk slowly to be sure to take it all in.
After walking down the steps through the underpass in the low 80’s, directly across from the river you will come upon a large striking and swirling sculpture in vibrant shades of blue mixed with yellow and hints of bright red and orange. Wendy Letven’s “Four Currents” is an uplifting, cheerful piece that draws the viewer in immediately. It is described as “a convergence of the energies of its location in Riverside Park’ the powerful flow of the river, the urban surroundings, the radiant energy of the sun, and the wind that bends the trees.”
To the left, in the grass and up a hill, it is hard to miss the largest piece in the show, DeWitt Godfrey’s conglomeration of steel cylindrical shapes combined together to create the piece entitled “Stuk.”
Bravin, who owns the BravinLee Programs gallery in Chelsea with her husband John Lee, grew up next to Riverside Park at the Schwab House, where her mother still lives. She settled in the same neighborhood as an adult raising her own children. “Riverside Park has always been my backyard,” she said.
Bravin originally delved into the world of public art when she curated another exhibit in Riverside Park in 2006, called Studio in the Park. The earlier exhibit featured 11 local artists. Bravin worked on other public art projects over the years, including a show about construction barriers with the Downtown Alliance and a project at the Lehman College campus, but she always planned to return to Riverside Park.
“Riverside Park is a little jewel that not everybody visits,” Bravin told West Side Rag in a phone interview. “I had this idea in my head for the past 15 years to do it again. I thought about it over and over. When Covid hit, I decided this was the right time. It was now or never.”
In November 2020, Bravin contacted Dan Garodnick, President and CEO of the Riverside Park Conservancy, with her idea. To her delight, he responded quickly and with interest. “He is very creative and willing to take a chance,” Bravin said.
“Karin reached out to me at the perfect moment,” Garodnick said. “We wanted to do something big and bold, which would celebrate people’s emergence from their homes after a difficult year, and would honor the Conservancy’s 35th anniversary. A public art exhibition was a perfect fit.”
Walking up the promenade, just before the 87th Street dog run, a large horizontal banner suddenly appears mounted on a fence to the right. The banner displays a geometric pattern in bright pink, white, brown and black. “No Dumping Drains to River,” by artist Niki Lederer, is made from repurposed umbrella canopies “sourced from umbrellas discarded in the streets, gutters and garbage cans by frustrated New Yorkers after a heavy rain.”
“Working on the exhibit really changed the pandemic for me,” Bravin told WSR. “It gave me an outdoor focus. During the winter, I was walking in the park, exploring spaces, measuring fences, and pushing away snow.” She also spent the winter meeting and speaking with artists about the logistics of the project. “I always start with an artist who I know well, who will say yes and talk through the issues with me. Then I add an artist whom I have never worked with before but want to work with.”
One of the second type was Mary Mattingly, whose piece entitled “Riverside Reading Room” appears after you travel through the underpass at 90th Street. Upon first glance, it seems to be a simple, calm, small house; a quiet space to work, read or reflect. But upon looking closer and reading the sign, we learn that its shelves are “filled with remnants, fossils, rock and soil in cycles of growth,” that it is made of “reclaimed lumber from New York’s present day tree species,” and that the work “reveals the challenges for flora living with climate change.”
While artist David Shaw had previously shown at BravinLee Programs, Bravin had not worked with him before on a public art project. His piece, “Last Steps,” which can be found by the river at 95th Street, is a captivating tall green ladder that reaches far up into the sky. Most of the ladder is bare; there are just three rungs at the top of only one side, causing the viewer to stop and wonder. The sides of the ladder contain silver and blue pieces, which have a fluorescent shimmer when the sunlight hits. The sign explains that the work is “both an image of our frustrated, unattainable and perhaps misguided desire for progress, as well as a symbol of hope that the world wants to rebuild.”
Brooklyn-based artist Rico Gatson’s “Untitled” is an enormous banner combining “five pre-existing paintings in the style of a filmstrip.” The banner, at 105th Street can be seen while driving on both sides of the West Side Highway.
Bravin had hoped the exhibit would bring joy to the artists and the public. Her wish has already been fulfilled. “The artists have been so happy with this project,” she explained. Since the artists were responsible for their own installations, many had the opportunity to interact with neighborhood residents in the park while installing their work. “Some artists told me their favorite part was engaging with the public,” Bravin said. The exhibit has also brought viewers who might not ordinarily look at art. “Galleries could potentially be intimidating but public art is available for all. It does positive things for the community.”
Garodnick is very pleased with Re:Growth. “The response has been incredible. People are loving this exhibition, and we are getting great feedback every day. As we emerge from this painful year, this exhibition celebrates the resilience of the city, and the toughness and spirit of all New Yorkers. The art speaks to our collective rejuvenation and restoration.”
To learn more about Re:Growth, including a list of participating artists, and a site map click here.
To learn more about curator Karin Bravin, click here.