Wednesday night, as The Observer crossed the West Side Highway at Bank Street and walked over to Pier 49, the pink-orange sun was reflecting onto the Hudson River, and people had filled the surrounding patches of grass, waiting for the official unveiling of a new public artwork by artist Jon Morris called Reflecting the Stars, which was sitting out in the water.
Mr. Morris and his team had spent the past few days attaching wirelessly controlled, solar-powered LED lamps onto the gnarled wooden posts that once constituted the pier in an arrangement that replicates the constellations that one would see in the night sky, looking west from the pier, were it not for New York’s substantial light pollution.
The opening had been delayed by 24 hours because the threat posed by Hurricane Irene had forced his installation team to remove an accompanying plaque and solar panels days before it was due to open. “They can get rained on, but they can’t be submerged,” Mr. Morris told The Observer.
“We left the stars in the water,” Mr. Morris said, “and some of them got skewed out of place, but we didn’t lose any.” He sounded elated. “Then we had to reprogram everything and there just wasn’t enough time.”
The project had cost $25,000 to install and was paid for by a variety of companies and foundations. It will be in place until there is no longer enough power from the sun to light them up at night—“probably the end of October or the beginning of November,” Mr. Morris said.
New York assemblyman Linda Rosenthal and Charles Renfro of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the architecture firm behind the nearby High Line, were on hand to discuss their support for the project.
For Ms. Rosenthal, the work also has political significance. She is currently working to pass a bill that would create dark-sky reserves, light-free areas set aside to allow people to see the night sky, and promote new shades for streetlamps that would lessen their blinding glare. “At the moment I have a lot of opposition,” she said, “but something like this could really turn things around.”
Mr. Renfro took a more philosophical approach to the work. “Reflecting the Stars links itself to realms near and distant,” he said. “It is a new way of observing our surroundings, helping us imagine the invisible if mankind were not so visible.”
New York has become a bastion for public art lovers of late. We asked Renfro how this was different from public art elsewhere in the city.
“I like the city’s public art,” he said. “But this has the whimsy of The High Line; it connects with something else.”
Later, Mr. Morris told the crowd that Buddhism advises its devotees to go out and look up at the night sky in order to relieve stress. We tried to imagine looking up at his LED stars from the bottom of the Hudson, but we couldn’t quite manage it.
“We look down at the stars today,” we thought, as the blue-white lights flickered on and off in their constellations in the now dark, starless sky.