The 'Deliberately Unkind' Public Art of the High Line

"You could be forgiven for reading the art as a message to less-than-opulent New Yorkers: You’ve lost your place," writes Michael Friedman.

2 minute read

November 16, 2017, 2:00 PM PST

By Katharine Jose


New York Public Art

Diego Grandi / Shutterstock

Michael Friedrich has written a lengthy review of public art commissioned for New York City's High Line park and come to the conclusion that, more or less, it has failed us.

"I’ve begun to think the High Line’s art is trolling us," Friedrich writes. "That it’s not so much playful as self-regarding—and deliberately unkind."
The High Line began as an urban reclamation project but the subsequent transformation of surrounding West Chelsea have long made it a frequent topic of meditation on the methods and merits of the urban revival of the last two decades.
"A late-capitalist chimera, the High Line may have the head of a park, but it’s a museum from the neck down," Friedrich writes, but "[e]ven as these objects delight us, they also remind us of the public space we’ve lost and the social inequality they’ve yielded."

Sheila Hicks' new installation, for example, "reflects the strange malfunction of our urban dream of reclamation," while John Rafman's 2017 piece "mostly conjures the social food chain devouring community space."

Robert Hammond, one of the original conceivers of the park, has expressed some regrets about unintended consequences of the High Line's remarkable success, and Richard Florida sees it as reflecting the "double edged sword" of the urban renaissance that he wrote about in The Creative Class: "No question it’s a seductive high-culture attraction—and a palliative for the pains of post-industrial decline. But it winks at us even as it soothes us, calling our attention to the dislocation the park itself has animated."

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