When you turn on the tap in your kitchen, do you ever think about where the water pouring out of your faucet comes from? Do you ever consider the fact that a simple thing like clean drinking water requires an elaborate system of pipes, reservoirs, water tanks, wells, and treatment plants? Probably not.
We take the infrastructure of modern life for granted. Only when we experience a natural disaster like a massive ice storm or hurricane do we realize how reliant we are on highways, trains, power grids, subways, and public water works for modern-day conveniences.
New York City is a playground for infrastructure lovers like myself. The Japanese may have their remarkable manhole covers, but New Yorkers have those ever-present water towers perched on tops of buildings throughout the city.
The best artists have the ability to make the invisible visible. Last week, a colorful new water tower perched on the top of a roof in DUMBO caught my attention. “Watertower” is the creation of artist Tom Fruin. As Hyperallergic reports, the sculpture is constructed entirely from salvaged and recycled Plexiglas and steel:
Fruin gathered the 1,000 pieces of plexiglas from businesses and buildings all over New York City and the steel from Pennsylvania. This is the fourth work in a global series of sculptures by the artist, all of which pay tribute to architectural icons in their respective locations (an obelisk in Buenos Aires, for example) using the same materials combined to form a gridded, patchwork and playful aesthetic.”
“Watertower” is illuminated by the sun during the day and light sequences by projection designer Jeff Sugg at night, bringing to mind a kind of glowing, sculptural, scrap-art version of another famous tribute to New York — Mondrian’s “Broadway Boogie Woogie.”
In 1998 the British artist Rachel Whiteread installed Water Tower on a roof in the Soho neighborhood of New York City. The piece was commissioned by the Public Art Fund and was the artist’s first public sculpture to be conceived and displayed in the United States.
Water Tower is now installed on the rooftop above the Museum of Modern Art’s sculpture garden. The sculpture is a resin cast of the interior of a once-functioning cedar water tower, chosen specifically for the texture this type of wood would impart to the surface.
The translucent resin captures the qualities of the surrounding sky. On a blue day the tower appears blue, but on an overcast day, like the day I visited the museum, the tower is whispery white. On a moonless night it will disappear, but if you catch the water tower on a night when the moon is full, Whiteread’s piece has a luminescent, pearly sheen. At times, the tower seems to be composed entirely of water, as in these images…
This week I received news of another new public art project involving New York’s pervasive water tanks. Word Above the Street has just announced The Water Tank Project, a landmark public art initiative focused on raising attention of water as a precious resource.
For twelve weeks in the Spring of 2013, 300 rooftop tanks in New York City will be transformed into works of art by established and emerging figures in art, music, science as well as New York City public school students. Word Above the Street hopes that the project will “redefine the skyline across all five boroughs and reach millions around the world through the super technology of Apps, social networking and online multimedia tools.”
As Good magazine reported this week, love for the spirit and built environment of New York City has inspired countless works of contemporary art, from Jay-Z’s lyrics to Jeff Koons’ stainless steel balloon sculptures. Both of these artists will be participating in the project in 2013. In addition to Jay-Z and Jeff Koons, musician Devendra Banhart, pop artist Ed Ruscha, scupltor Andy Goldsworthy, artist Carrie Mae Weems, and graffiti artist Fab 5 Freddy have also signed on for the project.
In their Kickstarter campaign, Word Above the Street writes, “The goal of The Water Tank Project is to produce art as social intervention and bring about changes in knowledge, attitudes, and behavior among those who experience it.”
As Good reports, “the organization has an ambitious Kickstarter funding goal of $1 million which will be used to legally secure the water tanks, ensure that they’re suitable for wrapping, and print the submitted works of art. With financial support, the co-founders hope to move along the production process to have the tanks ready to launch by next summer. If all goes well, the project hopes to spread to other global cities, including Mumbai, Rio, Mexico City, and Sydney.”
The project is run by Mary Jordan, a film-maker and activist, with a curatorial team that includes Lisa Dennison, the chairman of Sotheby’s North and South America, Neville Wakefield, the senior curatorial adviser for MoMA PS1, Alison Gingeras, the head curator of François Pinault’s collection and Toby Devan Lewis, a trustee of the New Museum of Contemporary Art. According to the Art Newspaper, supporters for the Water Tank Project include the Ford Foundation, the Agnes Gund AG Foundation, the Dorothea Leonhardt Foundation and private patrons.
Public sculptures like the ones created by Fruin, Whiteread, and Word Above the Street are not just about creating memorable art pieces; they are also about calling attention to an invisible part of the landscape that most of us take for granted. Whiteread has called her own water tower piece “a jewel on the skyline of Manhattan.” These works inspire city–dwellers to look again at the solid, weighty water towers so familiar on New York City rooftops.
Tom Fruin and Rachel Whiteread’s water tower sculptures succeed as art works because of their inventive use of materials. The translucent quality of the materials is a large part of their beauty. I’ll be curious to see how Word Above the Street’s Water Tank Project looks when all is said and done. Wrapping water tanks in a weather-proof material printed with art is an entirely different endeavor than creating a new water tower sculpture out of a unique material. One thing is for sure; come the summer of 2013 I’ll be hitting the streets of New York City and will have my eyes peeled to the skyline.