Sad news that Stephen Vitiello’s marvelous exhibit, “A Bell For Every Minute,” will close later this Spring. The folks who run the High Line have a robust program of art exhibits and they’ve created a one-year rule for themselves to keep the programs fresh and new. That makes (some) sense, but it’ll be hard to say goodbye to the Bells.
The exhibit has occupied the 14th Street Passage since June of last year, and it was one of the High Line’s original art projects. “A Bell For Every Minute” is a sort of audio map of New York City. Every minute, on the minute, a different bell from around town rings, from the familiar opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange to the 500 pound bell that welcomed visitors to the Dreamland Pier in Coney Island until it was lost in a fire in 1911. Divers retrieved it from the ocean floor in 2009 and Vitiello recorded it for his exhibit. There’s also a little girl’s bicycle bell, which I always love to hear.
The site of the exhibit – a bleak concrete tunnel – reminded the curator, Meredith Johnson, of a bell tower. While the enclosed space makes a perfect “auditorium” for the multitude of bells, it’s also an open space with all the day-to-day noises of the busy city that surrounds it. Every hour on the hour all fifty-nine bells ring at once.
I emailed Stephen Vitiello to ask if he’s planning to create an online home for “A Bell For Every Minute” and he’s not. The length of the piece plus the fact that it’s so site-specific make it very challenging, if impossible, to reproduce with integrity on the web. He passed along a link to a French website, Palais de Tokyo, where you can listen to a podcast of his “Bell Study,” which Vitiello describes as “a very quiet, processed bell piece that plays in between the louder hits each minute.” So once the exhibit closes this, alas, is all that will be left of “A Bell For Every Minute.”
For me this exhibit has become an integral part of the High Line. Every time I visit I hear a different series of bells, and of course every trip is a new experience because the ambient noises from the city — car horns blasting, kids screeching in joy, cruise ships bellowing, dogs barking, motorcycles roaring, cellphones ringing, rain falling, pneumatic drills howling — constantly reinvent the soundscape. Every minute, in fact.
So make sure you visit before June so you can get those bells in your ears at least once more before they go away.