Mark DiSuvero: Madison Square Park

by Donald Goddard

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Double Tetrahedron
Double Tetrahedron, 2004.
Painted steel,
36'8" x 8'10.5" x 8'10.5"

Madison Square Park, like all urban parks (and all other parks, for that matter), represents a closed system, a human arrangement of the landscape. In the city, everything is accounted for: places for people to work and live, walk and ride, eat and make telephone calls, relax and enjoy nature. Nothing is not accounted for. The system does deteriorate and break down, but even abandoned buildings and lots, and unapproved behavior, are on a list somewhere, and then the trick is getting around the list. In this particular park, one's course is generally predetermined, entering and exiting at the corners and the sides, proceeding between chain fences along paved paths around expanses of grass and under great trees, closed in by a peripheral array of buildings--including the Flatiron, Metropolitan Life, and Mutual Life--as though seen from a boat on a river, and confronted by statues of several 19th-century men--Lincoln's Secretary of State William Henry Seward, Union Civil War Admiral David Glasgow Farrugut, President Chester Alan Arthur, and New York State Republican boss Roscoe Conkling.--who are supposed to have affected our lives in some important fashion. In the scheme of things, everything is taken for granted, and nearly forgotten.

The three monumental sculptures by Mark di Suvero make it impossible to forget, at least for the time they are there (and maybe afterwards, out of sight). Two of them are large statements of red painted steel, and therefore quite obviously different from everything else. The other is naked steel, rusted, and perhaps more familiar because its colors and materials are related to those of the surrounding buildings (and to the trunks of trees). Still, this last piece, called Beyond, is so powerfully arranged, like a great horse standing on five legs with its body twisting and turning just from being in contact with the earth, that it almost seems to tear itself away from its context. But, in fact, what all the sculptures do is bring their context to life, or make us see that their context is alive.

Double Tetrahedron is spare and tall and narrow, like a skyscraper, our main impression being that it rises high above us, turning the world upside down, inverting at the center its four triangles to carry its base to the top. Is that what skyscrapers do, turn inside out and upside down so that they are as much in contact with the sky as with the earth? A transfer takes place, between those in the buildings and us in the park. Aesope's Fables, on the other hand, is horizontal and close to the ground, as though the two opposite ends, one of triangular forms, the other of circles and angles, connected by a long girder parallel to the ground, were "tethered shapes in conversation," as the brochure describes it.

With all three works, the closer one gets the more active and complicated the experience becomes, something like what happens when a person approaches, especially someone one knows, and then you speak to one another and the rules of contact change and open up entirely (before, at times, closing down). Double Tetrahedron towers over you, and even over the trees and the big buildings you begin to see it refers to. It becomes the means by which you are transported into the form and shape of the building, and into the lives of the people in the building. They are no longer simply generically "working" there or "living" there, encased in cubicles within a structure of steel and concrete, but are working and living as fully as you yourself are. A connection has been made through a conversion that takes place in the sculpture.

Aesope's Fables
Aesope's Fables, 1990.
Painted steel,
11'5.25" x 32'4.5" x 13'7.5"

Aesope's Fables, with its circles and angles, is also tied into everything around it: bending trunks and branches, horizontal bands of windows. But most particularly, it is related to the activities of people on the ground, people walking, or crouched in the sandy earth, or simply standing with their arms at angles. Di Suvero in the past has been very specific in some works about this relationship, giving people the opportunity to actually swing on or climb the girders, to become part of the work, or for the work to become part of them.

Beyond, 2004.
24' x 21 1/2' x 20 1/2'
Beyond 2004
Beyond, 2004.
24' x 21 1/2' x 20 1/2'

Beyond is more problematic, darker and more foreboding. It claims the place on which it stands and seems to rise over those beneath it to challenge the trees, the buildings, its own existence, as though it were nascent and full-grown at the same time. Its struts are steep and difficult to imagine climbing, its turning gestures almost violent and angry. All of what it suggests is beyond, our reach and our ability to know. What was predetermined about the park that might fulfill our comfortable fantasies is also much more than predetermined.

Donald Goddard © 2004

Mark di Suvero's three works were exhibited in Madison Square Park, between 23d and 28th Streets, Fifth and Madison Avenues, in Manhattan. Madison Square Park Conservancy,
11 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10010.

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