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the new condo

Charlie Hewitt. Image courtesy of Greenwich Arts Council

One of my favorite things about the High Line is the presence of public art throughout the year, in every season and in every form, media, and style.  Friends of the High Line committed itself from the very beginning to introducing the work of new artists as well as established ones, and the program — first run by Lauren Ross and today by Cecilia Alemani — has won awards and immense popularity from visitors.  The neighborhood the park traverses has long been a vibrant center of the arts, with visionary institutions — The Kitchen, Dia Art Foundation, Printed Matter, Exit Art — as well as hundreds (more than 400 at last official count) of commercial art galleries. The Whitney is building a new home, designed by Renzo Piano, at the southern end of the High Line, and Dia is constructing a large new exhibit space on 22nd Street. When those two projects are completed, the High Line’s neighborhood will arguably be the most important concentration of contemporary art in the United States.

The influence of the High Line’s art program will soon be visible in a new venue. On Mother’s Day the luxury rental complex known as Ten23, between 22nd & 23rd Street on Tenth Avenue, will install a piece of sculpture by the artist Charlie Hewitt. Called “Urban Rattle,” the work will stand some 20′ high in the center of the building’s patio, just below and on the eastern edge of the park. Hewitt is an American artist (born 1946) whose work includes paintings, sculpture, engraving, woodcuts, print-making and other media. His work has been acquired for collections in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, the Whitney, Brooklyn Museum, New York Public Library and the Library of Congress.

Emily Santangelo, the art consultant who arranged the project with Equity Residential, the building’s owner, describes it as “the first privately commissioned monumental sculpture to directly address the High Line and its community of visitors.” She says that Hewitt considers his work to be “doodles in steel,” and describes “Urban Rattle” as “playful and serious at the same time.” This seems a perfect combination, as the work will hover over the High Line’s lawn, a place of mixed use where children run, leap, and often screech with joy while adults read or engage in quiet conversation.

If you’d like to watch the installation, it will take place over the weekend, beginning on Saturday, May 12 and ending on Sunday afternoon. I’m told that the members of the FDNY’s (controversial) EMT station under the High Line will be lending a hand as the steel structure is unloaded and carried up to the patio.

As readers of this blog know, I documented the progress of Ten23 for almost three years as I was writing about the construction of section two of the High Line. The lawn — and the apartment complex — appear just outside my window, and were built in tandem. Photos of Hewitt’s piece will follow in a week or so. Meantime, here’s what it looks like today:

The High Line's Lawn and the Patio at Ten23

To learn more about the High Line’s public art program, visit the website of Friends of the High Line. To learn more about Charlie Hewitt, visit the author’s website or EmilyFineArt.com.


Trees in a Wilderness of Concrete

I don’t know a single New Yorker who’s not amazed by the trees that grow all over the city, popping up through the sidewalks, poking their branches against the windows of brownstones. (Side note: I’ve always loved those wonderful grates made by the Neenah Foundry. I have a friend named Neenah who was named after the company. If you visit their website you can browse all the different “collections” they have for tree grates.)

All this came to mind after I looked out the window this morning and beheld trees on the High Line. From here they look like Douglas Fir, but it’s hard to tell. (Nice thing about the High Line: no deer!). The construction guys — or maybe they’re from the nursery, it’s hard to know because they all wear hard hats — are getting ready for planting. Finally, amid all the cement and rebar, the plants are arriving. It’s great to see, particularly now that The Condo is eight storeys high and climbing. We’ve lost our view of the Con Ed building’s cupula, and the water towers across the street, on the London Towers complex, are just about to disappear too.

But we have trees! And that puts me in a fine mood.


A Club Sandwich Made of Cement

The other day I looked out the window and gasped at the progress that has been made, seemingly overnight. The crew has already begun work on the fifth floor of the condo next door. Ann joined me at the window, glanced out, and replied: “yeah, it’s kind of like a club sandwich — nothing to it, really.”

Meanwhile (I feel compelled to say this…) all is quiet on the High Line. But hope springs eternal.


The Colorful Machinery

What a difference a day makes.  We go from orange cement mixer to green, and the crew appears in a combination of yellow and orange anoraks. The men continue to build and pour cement, and the condo rises. I think we have a couple of weeks before it reaches above the low, gray buildings on Tenth Avenue.

On the High Line deck (in the photo with the green mixer) you can see little bundles which I think are wrapped-up, upside-down benches. We shall see. The spruce trees are lovely, and all the greenery must be happy for the rain we’ve had over the past few days. It’s quiet on the High Line, noisy on the condo.


Another Day, Another Story

So work proceeds. I’m baffled by the pace of construction projects. There are dramatic phases that go so fast — like adding an entire floor, which took just a few weeks at Our New Neighborhood Condo next door — and then long, interminable lulls where nothing seems to happen. (Wallboard installation, probably. Very boring.) A notable consequence of this “progress” is the loss of The Rat. He is now shielded from my view by the emerging 3rd floor of the condo, but I know he’s there because the horns continue to honk (labor guys in solidarity) and every time I cross 10th Avenue I have to wade through a mass of listless men drinking coffee and hanging about.

Lest we forget, here is Mr. Rat, with his friends.

Meantime, progress continues on the High Line. You can see hints of it in the photo above, but you have to look hard to discern the greenery that has been planted along the eastern edge of the pavers. Evergreens, grasses and little shrubs sit quietly in place between the concrete and iron. It’s still quiet down there on my little patch of unconstructed High Line, but periodically a man walks by and tips his hat to The Rat, or a new machine appears (see above; this one has its own little mat). The view from the northernmost spot that’s open to the public — on 20th Street, looking north through the chain link fence — is more promising, and shows the tremendous progress that has been made. Any day now I expect to look out my window and see an actual park emerging. I took the photo to the right with my phone, so it’s not great, but you see what I mean.

One of the things I love about the High Line is how it reveals all the new architecture in our neighborhood. There’s the tilting glass building on 23rd Street — you can see it in the distance, to the left (west) in this photo — for one. But walk along the High Line and you see it everywhere, above, below, and to either side. New buildings that curve (IAC) or dance with their colored panes of glass (the new Jean Nouvel building) look out over (but never seem to tower above) older ones. The red roof of the old Guardian Angel School building, which sits across the street from Clement Moore Park (and the fabulous 192 Books) is an anchor in time. Every time I walk along the High Line I see something new, or I see something old differently. Watching it unfold before me is a wonder.


Quiet High Line, Greening Up

Today’s New York Times reports that our section of the High Line will open in Spring 2011, which sounds about right, given the rate of progress.  It’s exciting to see the plants in place — a number of large trees and shrubbery abounding. None of it has reach the spot outside my window between 22nd and 23rd, but it’s close. If I stand in the middle of 22nd Street and look up at the stretch of High Line that crosses the street I can see leaves poking above the metal sides. Meantime, it’s quiet; the High Line guys are north, I think, doing whatever it is they are doing.

No such luck with the condo. Car horns continue to blow, although the protesters seem to be running out of steam. Maybe it’s the heat. Looking out my window I count ten men amongst the rebar. They move slowly, carrying heavy loads in the oppressive humidity. It seems that it’s even too hot for The Rat, who appears to have gone elsewhere, maybe for a swim at Coney Island.


Every day I look out the window and try to imprint a memory of the scene below, because soon all I’ll see is construction, then some new building. We can only hope that it’s not one of those ultra-modern confections that looks like it’s made from paper clips and Reynold’s Wrap. I’m a bit rueful as I watch the taxis glide by. Already I’ve lost a lot of street view, and one more story of this building and most of it will be entirely gone. That’s what happens in the City. So we have to rely on our memories and photographs to retain the old images of the streets we’ve grown to love.


Grown Men Build a Fort


Earlier this week I photographed The Rat and noted that labor workers are protesting the construction company that’s building a condo on 10th Avenue between 22nd & 23rd, just to east (an arms-breadth is all…) of the High Line. Well, it seems that the builders have rather a thin skin: they have erected a wall around themselves from what looks like large sheets of wallboard so the protesters can’t see them. Out of sight, out of mind. Except they have to listen to all the whistling, horn blowing, and cries of “Scabs, go home!” that resound in our neighborhood all day long. All we need now is vuvuzelas and the game will really be on.