Community Boards

Will Excavator Art Dig In

At Madison Square Park?

Belgian artist Wim Delvoye’s exhibit at the New Museum of Contemporary Art last April was a machine that mimicked the human digestive system with such precision that French fries ingested at one end were healthfully pooped out the other.

The sculpture, entitled Cloaca , pointed not only to Mr. Delvoye’s interest in the scatalogical-the machine was diligently fed twice a day; potty time was usually around 2 p.m.-but to a childlike fascination with machines and the way they work.

Mr. Delvoye’s latest installation consists of two 30-foot-long steel Caterpillar excavators, which the artist hopes to mount on the gravel area at Madison Square Park for a two-month stay beginning June 27. But in order to gain access to the park space, the proposal had to go before Community Board 5, whose members had a range of reactions to the work at their full board meeting on April 10.

“I don’t see why we have to put such large things like Caterpillars in the park,” said board member Howard Mendes. “You call it art; I think it’s a nuisance.” Members also voiced concern about the park’s lack of space and the possible injury to children. “It’s a very big installation and will be quite visible,” said board chairman Kyle Merker, adding that the increased traffic to the park would also increase the likelihood of injures to children, who would be tempted to climb onto the installation. “They [the artworks] look like climbing structures,” Mr. Merker told The Observer . “If I was a kid, I’d say, ‘Look at that!'”

The Parks Department, under whose jurisdiction Madison Square Park falls, also had concerns about safety issues, but the department has worked out the kinks with the artist. The planned safety measures will include a two-foot-high fence, a plaque to explain the “purpose” of the art and the ever-watchful eyes of park staff, who have been forewarned about the potential hazards of the installation.

The Caterpillar exhibit will be the American debut of Mr. Delvoye’s “Gothic” series. The installation consists of two life-size replicas of Caterpillar excavators, sculpted in corten steel and tooled with Gothic ornamentation. At Madison Square Park, Caterpillar #3 will be accompanied by a number of other Gothic-styled objects, including a cement mixer, traffic cones, a wheelbarrow, barricades and a shovel. Another Caterpillar sculpture will be installed at Doris C. Freedman Plaza, located on the southeast corner of Central Park (at 60th Street and Fifth Avenue).

At last week’s meeting, the Public Art Fund, which sponsored the work, was turned down in its request to display the construction art for four months. “The board believes that this is going in an area of the park that they want to keep open as long as possible. Two months seems reasonable,” said Mr. Merker.

The debate over art in public spaces isn’t new to the city. One of the more recent discussions was over Cow Parade , Pascal Knapp’s cow-fixated art installation that swamped the city three years ago. The response of New Yorkers was affectionate at first, though it eventually became one of annoyance and (inevitably) cow theft. Madison Square Park is no stranger to temporary public art, either. In fact, the Public Art Fund organized Target Art in the Park , the culmination of a three-year contemporary public-art program in New York City, which opened in July of 2002. Target featured works by contemporary artists Dan Graham, Mark Dion and the duo of Dalziel and Scullion, and comprised a series of cast-aluminum expedition tents, a glass pavilion and a field station.

No matter what the reception for Mr. Delvoye’s work, the problem of ever-shrinking open park space won’t be resolved any time soon. Much of Madison Square Park-which doesn’t have nearly the square footage of Central Park-is already fenced in; any more would be extremely noticeable. But in this case, aesthetic and cultural considerations have outweighed the need for space, at least for a couple of months. “With everything, there’s a trade-off,” said Mr. Merker. Eric Gering, another board member, believed that in the end, the art was the thing. “It’s a great compliment, a place for children who are forming their [first abstract notions of art].” The final board vote approved Mr. Delvoye’s Caterpillar exhibit for a two-month stay in the park.

-Elon Rafael Green

Board 6 Questions

need For Private Parking Garage

While parking isn’t at the top of the list of most New Yorkers’ concerns, building developers often use the promise of a parking garage to lure new tenants. But striking a balance between tenants’ needs and the desires of neighborhood residents can be tricky, as the owners of a new residential complex at 222 East 34th Street learned on Wednesday, April 9, at Community Board 6’s monthly meeting.

Representing Rosebud Associates, the owner of the East 34th building, architect David West and traffic consultant Philip Habib, from the firm Costas Kondylis and Partners, argued for a resolution in support of the proposed 190-space parking garage beneath the building. Citing 1990 census information, Mr. Habib said that 40 percent of the building’s residents would own vehicles; thus the need for the proposed garage, which has nearly twice the number of parking spaces permitted by the Department of City Planning (which limits the number of parking spaces to 20 percent of the total number of units in the building). The residential complex will have 480 units, with rents ranging from approximately $1,900 to $6,000, and will be ready by mid-May.

At the meeting, Mr. Habib presented detailed blueprints of the garage and explained the measures to ameliorate any traffic congestion that might arise-for instance, a 10-car ramp for vehicles waiting to be parked by garage attendants. Board members, however, weren’t convinced, arguing that the garage would only exacerbate the already heavy congestion in the area. (Several crosstown busses have stops on the block, which also includes an exit for the Queens-Midtown Tunnel.) Board members also questioned the numbers presented by Mr. Habib.

“Their stats are bogus,” said Edward Rubin, chairman of Board 6’s land-use committee. “It’s a gridlocked street, and to make an argument that you need more cars is not valid.”

According to the 2000 census, only 23.5 percent of Manhattan residents own vehicles, which would seem to suggest that only 107 parking spaces are necessary for the building’s garage. Joseph Tuchman, director of general operations and general counselor for Rosebud Associates, disagreed. Mr. Tuchman told The Observer , “We felt that [190 parking spaces] is absolutely the right number.” He added that “it creates more of a problem” not to provide parking for residents, because typically a resident driver will circle the block repeatedly looking for a space-or worse, simply double-park. “We want to be good neighbors,” Mr. Tuchman added.

But Mr. Rubin told The Observer that frequently a building will have more parking spaces than necessary, and that parking-garage contractors-thinking of economics more than the neighborhood-often seek out “transient” parkers (also known as commuters). Several board members pointed out that transient parkers are already a problem in the area, and another parking garage would only make the situation worse.

Ultimately, Board 6 voted down the proposed garage. Rosebud Associates will now have to convince the borough president’s office to authorize the parking garage-and hope that Board 6’s resolution doesn’t carry much weight.

-Matthew Ian Grace

April 24: Board 8, P.S./I.S. 217, 645 Main Street, Roosevelt Island, auditorium, 7:00 p.m., 212-758-4340.

April 16: Board 9, Community Board Office, 565 West 125th Street, between Broadway and Old Broadway, ground floor, 6:30 p.m., 212-864-6200.

April 23: Board 2, St. Vincent’s Hospital, 170 West 12th Street on Seventh Avenue, 6:30 p.m., 212-979-2272.