Long Nights: Charles Long at Madison Square Park

Most art openings tend to run well past eight, spilling their occupants onto the sidewalk once the beer runs out. Arriving as late as 8:30, you can usually slip in just under the wire, take a lap through the show and say your “It’s nice to see you”s. By contrast, there is a very good reason why opening receptions at Madison Square Park end on time, and that is: daylight.

When Gallerist rolled in at around 8:15 last Wednesday night for the opening of an exhibition of outdoor sculptures by Charles Long—part of the park’s long-running art program—we were greeted by workers dismantling mini canopies under which, presumably, guests had mingled. Here’s the thing, though: it was better that way. Better to be alone in the fading light of dusk with Mr. Long’s weird, vaguely anthropomorphic blob-like candy-colored sculptures that had poured themselves over picnic tables, and plopped down on benches, and were emitting electronic blips and bleeps, or soothing static, like the white noise machines outside shrinks’ offices. For a moment, before the madness of Frieze, we enjoyed blissful solitude, seemingly in the company only of a convocation of peaceful extra terrestrials assembled for purposes no grander than merely hanging benignly around for a bit, blipping, bleeping and whirring.

Then there was a bleep of a different kind, a text message, asking, would it be necessary to retain our seat at Mr. Long’s dinner, nearby, at the Italian restaurant SD26. And so, after lingering a bit longer with these strange objects as, with the growing darkness, they faded into the park’s background greenery, we were off to join other humans in eating Italian food. At the dinner, we remembered fondly our favorite artwork ever by Charles Long, at the Whitney Biennial, in 1997. He’d placed a sizable mound of silly-putty-like material (yes, it was that Pepto pink) atop a table, and stuck into it the wires of sets of headphones that were playing Stereolab. A bunch of stools were arrayed around it, and visitors were free to sit on them, put on the headphones and listen to Stereolab, while fashioning shapes out of the blobs of putty and sticking them back onto the mound.

While we were remembering this, Mr. Long rose to give a speech about the new sculptures, the Madison Square Park ones, which are called “Pet Sounds,” after the Beach Boys album from which he took inspiration. “What a trip that thing is, right?” he began. “That is some f-ed up stuff … For all those people who are going to see that, and they don’t know anything about art, and they don’t care who I am, and they don’t care about your art program and all the effort that goes into it, they’re just going to walk in there and go, ‘What is this thing?’”


Long Nights: Charles Long at Madison Square Park