New Yorkers are known for dining on-the-go, and delis that are available at every other street corner play key role in keeping city dwellers’ ovens unused. Serving locals as social hubs in addition to food, deli culture is celebrated this month with artist Lucy Sparrow’s installation, Delicatessen on the 6th, at Rockefeller Center.
True to a typical deli, the installation sits on a street corner, on the intersection of 49th street and 6th avenue where sidewalks are stomped everyday by flocks of business people and tourists in search of a quick bite. Customers at Sparrow’s shop can find cold cuts, cheeses, sea food, pastry, fresh produce and canned food on display, albeit all rendered in felt, a material associated with the London-based artist since she opened her East End all-felt installation, Cornershop. “I went around so many delis for research and tried all possible things,” Sparrow explained Observer about her appetizing research process. She also notes that her felt installations are custom-made to suit the texture and habits of their surrounding cities: “I tailor each installation to match the local cuisine and climate.” So it’s no surprise that the artist chose to recreate a deli in New York’s midtown to connect with local and visiting crowds amidst high-rise plazas, boutiques, and, yes, delis. Each item is accentuated with a smiley face stitched on its surface to disrupt the seriousness often associated with art and add further personality and lightheartedness to the colorful installation.
Presented by Art Production Fund, a non-profit organization known for installing Elmgreen & Dragset’s Prada Marfa in Texas and Jeff Koons’ Seated Ballerina sculpture at Rockefeller Plaza, the installation continues Rockefeller Center’s Art in Focus initiative that makes art accessible to a larger public outside of the confines of a museum or gallery. In this case, accessibility goes a step further, allowing art to be touched and purchased by visitors through a monetary transaction to complete a typical food shopping experience.
A board on the neon pink wall lists the price for each item, written in a retro typeface that recalls heyday of New York delis of the 1950s and ‘60s. Oysters are available for $20 each; chicken breast goes for $40 a pop. The value is determined by the amount of labor required to create the object entirely by hand. The most popular item among collectors so far is the baguette, while the store’s most valuable piece is a large octopus, which took two days to finish.
But there is an item for each budget for visitors interested in leaving the delicatessen with a piece of art—take home a clam for as little as $10. “I am happy to see art go to the homes of those who do not necessarily have loads of money,” said Sparrow, who sews each piece with help from two assistants at her studio. A material tightly associated in art history with German Conceptualist Joseph Beuys, felt is a friendly material for easily accommodating different forms and handily comes in a large color spectrum, according to the artist. Her fascination towards the material started during childhood when Sparrow decided to make her own toys and her mother brought a batch from the local store. In her late 20s, the artist had started making works out of felt, leading to a BBC commission to recreate the Crown Jewels in felt in celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday—it occupied the window of the Hermés boutique in Beverly Hills.
A variety of colors and forms are visible across Sparrow’s vibrant store, where the artist will run the shop behind the cash register until it closes on October 20. In the meantime, choose your favorite from piles of lobster tails, oysters, herrings and shrimps that create a lush wash of pinks and reds, or take home a canned bean from a perfectly lined selection across a shelf just above towers of onions, tomatoes, scallions and lettuces, rendered in the exact color and proportion you’re used to seeing on those daily trips when your stomach is rumbling.