Back to Basics: Orly Genger at Madison Square Park
Orly Genger: Red, Yellow and Blue
Madison Square Park Conservancy
May 2 to September 8, 2013
23 Madison Avenue, between East 23rd Street and East 26th Street
New York City, 212-538-4071
Primary colors and monumental organic forms comprise Red, Yellow and Blue, Orly Genger’s installation in New York City’s Madison Square Park, on view until September 8. Genger, a thirty-something New York-based artist, takes the daintily domestic art of crocheting to a powerfully dynamic level, using only her hands to construct loops of thick, rough lobster rope into gigantic strands. Industrial rope of this quality became available for communities beyond fisherman several years ago when floating lines for lobsters had to be replaced by sinking rope to protect the rare right whale. The Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation has since cleaned tons of rope, distributing it for various projects.
Genger revels in the physicality of her process, from crocheting to stacking, curving, and spray-painting her massive strands of 1.4 million feet of rope, which required 3500 gallons of paint. For this artist, the work is a “physical manifestation of time”—two years in this case. Just as the artist engages with her material, she also wants the public to have a feeling for it. Obviously, the rope is quite durable as well as being waterproof, and Genger encourages visitors to interact with her installations by sitting on the lower sections, leaning against the fibrous walls, and gathering inside the curving forms. All the sections are quite stable, with the taller segments laid on steel supports. (However, the park does prohibit climbing on the art.)
A sweeping wall of blue rope creates the most formalized environment, encircling an expanse of the lawn except for a wide entrance welcoming visitors coming in from the west side. When viewed from its exterior in midsummer, Blue most perfectly complements the park’s foliage, looming up behind floral bushes with blooms in purple and blue. The enclosure assumes an importance and dignity, becoming a destination rather than a vista. Genger could have made a narrow entrance that would have seemed claustrophobic. Instead, her structure embraces those venturing inside.
In Red, toward the southern end of the park, the installation seems to contain and support several trees as it soars up majestically, far beyond human reach. This structure has the closest relationship to natural objects. The wall dips in one section to frame a tree’s spreading branches so that they can be viewed from the exterior, and it brushes up against the largest tree at that end of the lawn. Red provides a sheltering environment, blocking the afternoon sun for those sitting against the inner wall.
Unlike the stately profiles of Blue and Red, in Yellow the undulating contours introduce a jaunty rhythm to the east side of the park, similar to the lift and drop of a roller coaster. By far the brightest color of the three, yellow seems most appropriate for this installation as it romps around the lawn. Because of its lower levels, Yellow appeals to children, who can easily sit on the rope, and to adults who can sit and lean back against the top. This part of the installation best fulfills Genger’s interactive goal.
Although Genger explains her choice of primary colors as being familiar to everyone, one can’t help but think of De Stijl artists and the graphic clarity of red, yellow, and blue in Modernist painting and design. Genger’s involvement with repurposed material resonates with the productions of environmental artists, such as Jeff Schmuki’s nylon tubes, and her landscape art—recently compared to the stark steel slabs of Richard Serra—embraces an aesthetic closer to works like the curvilinear installations of the Finnish artist and architect Marco Casagrande, notably his woven willow Sandworm on the Belgian coast. Orly Genger successfully mediates between painting and interactive sculpture, managing to wrestle Color Field extravagance into coherent, appealing constructions on a very human scale, in tune with both nature and art.