Park Avenue, the Art Gallery
Alice Aycock’s Latest Installation Is Unveiled
By TED LOOSMARCH 11, 2014
Alice Aycock, the sculptor, was holding her breath.
Horns were blaring at Park Avenue and 57th Street just before midnight late last week as a massive crane, blocking traffic, lifted one-half of “Cyclone Twist,” a swirling series of white aluminum bands, into place, precisely connecting with its other half already standing on the avenue’s slim median. It was an impressive enough feat that the workers snapped their own cellphone photos.
“Honey, I am in heaven,” said Ms. Aycock, 67, who was supervising the installation of a suite of seven enormous sculptures in aluminum and fiberglass. Called “Park Avenue Paper Chase,” and stretching from 52nd Street to 66th, they are inspired variously by tornadoes, dance movements and drapery folds, and will be up until July 20. “When does someone my age get something like this?” she added. “This is like the Piazza San Marco of New York.”
“Maelstrom,” a spiky assemblage of aluminum ribbons that stretches for some 70 feet near the Seagram Building, has the largest footprint of any sculpture in the history of this storied corridor’s art program, begun in 1969. The pieces are presented by the Sculpture Committee of the Fund for Park Avenue and New York’s Department of Parks and Recreation.
“Cyclone Twist,” an Alice Aycock art installation, being assembled along Park Avenue.
Credit Richard Perry/The New York Times
“The notion is that there is this big wind that moves up and down the avenue, and that it makes the forms or blows the forms and leaves it in its wake,” said Ms. Aycock, an intense and scrappy artist who is something of a dervish herself.
As is frequently the case with public work, not everyone gets it. “I don’t mind them taking up so much space, but I would prefer a flower arrangement — something natural,” said Courtney Nelson, who passed “Maelstrom” on Monday, the first weekday it was fully installed, on her lunch break.
“I think it’s hideous,” said Irene Stolzer. “It doesn’t fit Park. It reminds me of those paper roses in Chinatown.”
Defenders were also out in force. “It breaks up the Midtown monotony,” said Eric Rolfsen. “Public art should be big — this is New York.”
Ms. Aycock has faced divided public opinion before, as with her 1992 sculpture that suggests a satellite dish on the roof of the 107th Police Precinct House in Flushing, Queens. Some residents said that they thought that a portion of the piece might be an actual surveillance device. (It isn’t — the sculpture is meant to symbolize communication between the police and the community.)
More recently, Ms. Aycock resolved a legal dispute with the operators of Terminal 1 at Kennedy Airport. They wanted to dismantle her huge work “Star Sifter,” finished in 1998. Last year, they compromised on a solution that had her reconfigure the piece and move it to another location in the terminal.
Alice Aycock's “Maelstrom." Credit Richard Perry/The New York Times
Alice Aycock's “Hoop-La." Credit Richard Perry/The New York Times
“I fight hard where it counts,” Ms. Aycock said. “This is what I do, this is who I am, and if you take this away, I’ll just evaporate. In other words, it’s my identity.”
“Park Avenue Paper Chase” is being bankrolled by Ms. Aycock’s Berlin-based dealer, Galerie Thomas Schulte, and another German investor, for more than $1 million, Mr. Schulte said, with the aluminum donated by Alcoa. The works will eventually be sold, as will smaller versions of each piece.
Ms. Aycock, whose work is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, made her name creating a hybrid of architecture and sculpture. But her work has evolved from rougher edges to a shinier patina, with celestial references and, often, an aspect of piled-high Russian Constructivism, à la Vladimir Tatlin’s unbuilt tower, “Monument to the Third International,” which she cited as an influential work.
“I admire the fact the she keeps pushing it and doesn’t stay still,” Adam D. Weinberg, the director of the Whitney Museum, said. “That’s the sign of a great artist.”
Ms. Aycock, now based in SoHo, was raised in Harrisburg, Pa. “She had a father in construction, who built huge things,” said Robert Hobbs, who teaches art history at Virginia Commonwealth University and is the author of “Alice Aycock: Sculpture and Projects.”
He continued: “Every night he told her, ‘You have to do something that surprises and fascinates me.’ But now she surprises herself.”
Alice Aycock's "Cyclone Twist," part of “Park Avenue Paper Chase.”
Credit Richard Perry/The New York Times
As she showed her work in the 1970s downtown world, it was hard not to notice that she was frequently the only woman on the scene, Ms. Aycock said — but she put blinders on.
“My father once said, ‘Denial can be very useful,’ ” she said. “You try not to have resentments if you can, because they get in the way of doing the good stuff.”
That approach has led to some 32 public installations. “Her works of the ’70s and ’80s were absolutely extraordinary,” Mr. Weinberg said. “But because so many of them were site-specific and in far-flung places, there’s a huge portion of her work that’s only known through photographs and books, and that may have hurt her a bit.”
Mr. Schulte acknowledged that Ms. Aycock’s career had taken something of a “dip” after the 1980s.
“From that she learned a lot about life and how it can go, but it made her what she is today,” Mr. Schulte said.
Ms. Aycock doesn’t have New York gallery representation, despite solo exhibitions like the one last year at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, N.Y. “Park Avenue Paper Chase” is her chance to remind the world that she’s still capable of big things.
Ms. Aycock compared herself to “Waltzing Matilda,” the one fiberglass piece of her group, which resembles folds of drapery more than a tornado.
“If you listen to the Tom Waits song ‘Waltzing Matilda,’ he’s crawling around the streets, saying, just give me one more chance,” she said. “The piece embodies that. She’s beautiful, but she didn’t necessarily do things the easy way.”
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