Cynthia Nikitin Pardon Our Appearance Scaffolding and construction

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Cynthia Nikitin Pardon Our Appearance Scaffolding and construction Powered By Docstoc
					Cynthia Nikitin

                              Pardon Our Appearance
            Scaffolding and construction fences as canvases for public art

As we leave the 20th century, we are witnessing the most monumental urban face-lift in

history. Due partly to the rampant construction and redevelopment of the 1980s, and

partly to a growing realization of the need to keep urban centers and infrastructure intact

as far into the next century as possible, practically every major city in the world is

experiencing some form of architectural resuscitation. More often than not, the efforts

that presage a building’s arrival (or its eventual salvation) are marked by a quasi-

permanent installation of unsightly and inconvenient wooden barricades, construction

fences, and scaffolding, which appear to climb up one building façade and down another,

for blocks on end. The effect that these ersatz jungle gyms have on our cities is to obscure

those elements which help to define their charm and flavor, and to render them virtually

indistinguishable from one another. City centers, which house the largest numbers of

buildings being adaptively reused and redeveloped, as well as those requiring

preservation and repair, are areas where these activities are most highly concentrated.

       What can be done to mitigate the dramatic effects of pedestrian-level construction

on the look and feel of urban streetscapes? In New York, Paris, and southern California,

artists, scaffolding companies, and municipal authorities are using buildings under

construction and exteriors under repair as sites for public art to improve the look of their

cities and to enable businesses, institutions, and communities to regain and reassert their

street presence.

       Perhaps the most recognized type of construction site art is the construction fence

mural. These are usually commissioned by real estate developers or corporations who
want their project to attract public attention while, at the same time, want to soften the

effect that construction may have on both clients and passersby. The company which is

responsible for many of the murals which grace construction barricades in New York,

Miami, Baltimore, and Boston is Evergreene Painting Studios. Since 1978, Evergreene

has brought impressionist landscapes, architectural and pictorial images, and send-ups of

20th-century masterworks to sidewalk bridges, construction fences, and canvas banners

for building fronts throughout the United States. Like the scenes from Central Park which

unfold on the front of a new building on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, and the art deco

trompe l’oeil street façade painted on the construction fence for Miami towers, the

images they select evoke the cities in which a building is located and often depict scenes

taken directly from the area surrounding a building site, transforming the sites from

eyesores into placemakers.

       Evergreene regularly works for municipal authorities as well, such as New York’s

Port Authority and the Long Island Railroad (LIRR), for whom they are creating their

most ambitious construction site project to date: a 750-foot by 8-foot-long modular

construction fence for installation in Penn Station. Mural designer David Horowitz calls

the work “a WPA-style mural” which depicts 14 images of historic stations, trains, and

figures from the LIRR. The mural will be installed this summer and will remain in Penn

Station indefinitely.

       The majority of Evergreene’s murals remain in place from three months to three

years, after which many get recycled and installed in other locales. A mural created after

George Seurat’s “La Grande Jatte,” which stood for two years in front of a well-known

lingerie shop in New York City, was sent to an Ohio art museum; the mural for the
Miami Towers building was reconfigured into a freestanding structure and installed din

the architecture department at the University of Florida; and a construction fence for New

York’s Herald Square was given to a children’s hospital.

          The Evergreene Painting Studios has evolved in another direction as well; they

are one of the foremost architectural restoration firms in the country. Currently they are

restoring the U.S. Customshouse, a national landmark in Lower Manhattan’s Bowling

Green. When asked why Evergreene continues to do temporary murals for construction

sites, president Jeffrey Greene explained that their murals are a way to enliven the

cityscape. “It humanizes the environment,” he added, “and that’s what public art is all


          On the other side of the Atlantic, a French construction firm has raised scaffolding

to an art form. For over a decade, the Layher company has succeeded in creating wildly

imaginative, spectacular, and transformative building coverings and backdrops which are

featured centerpieces in national spectacles and special events. One such project was the

transformation of a monument to Charles de Gaulle into a giant 1940s style radio, much

like those from which the French heeded “the call to arms” on June 18, 1940. For Bastille

Day 1990 at the newly completed Arc de la Defense, Layher hung netting over the

surface of the entire monument in order to create a reflective surface for a synchronized

laser light show projected to the music of Jean-Michel Jarre. Layher’s projects also

include many cultural institutions, including the Bastille Opera House and I.M. Pei’s

Louvre Pyramid, which was the largest scaffolding job in the world.

          Layher began collaborating with artists in 1985 to create canvas murals on

scaffolding for installation on the façades of restaurants, churches, theaters, and museums
throughout Paris. One of their first art projects was the Musée d’Orsay. Layher hired

artist Jean Vérame to create a mountain landscape in red, blue, and black, which enabled

the museum to maintain a visual identity during its extensive renovation. Vérame’s work

inspired Catherine Feff, a young French painter, to use the immense surfaces deployed on

scaffolding as canvases for paintings. Ms. Feff is now one of Layher’s most versatile and

prolific scaffold artists. She creates decorative and trompe l’oeil images for the majority

of Layher’s scaffold projects and works on projects with artist from her own Bâtisseurs

d’Ephémère. Some of Feff’s most notable works include a life-size replica of the Church

of the Madeleine painted on the canvas covering the church itself; three 500-squre-meter

trompe l' oeil scaffold books with such titles as “The History of the Future” for a project

entitled “Rue des Livres” on the Avenue Matignon; and a giant camera which this past

May was placed in front of the Eiffel Tower and reflected its inverted trompe l’oeil


         Corporations have taken an active interest in Layher’s work, since they perceive

the visual impact and advertising potential of Layher’s scaffold projects to be enormous.

Corporate commissions include Ion Condesciu’s banner for Citröen which depicts the

client’s car poised regally on the third floor of a building; his four-story-high Dunlop

tennis ball which was installed at the Porte Maillot; and a skyscraper-sized bottle for

Orangian. It is the architect or building owner who selects the design which ultimately

appears on their Layher scaffolding project. However, when the scaffolding comes down,

the artwork becomes the property of the artist who created it.

         Layher’s scaffolds appear to take on a life of their own; sometime they bear no

relationship with the building they cover or to the surrounding site. It is through this
process of tansformation, however, that they are able to inject new life and meaning into

a place and enable one to see and understand it as if for the first time.

        As we have seen, scaffold art plays a variety of roles in urban settings—from

constuction mitigation agent to street spectacle. Scaffold art can also play an active role

in the day-to-day life of a community; it can serve as a communal canvas and venue for

community-based cultural expression. A locally-sponsored scaffold art program could

lead to the creation of a public art that would refelct and be meaningful to the community

in which it was placed. Moreover, it would be a means of providing local artist with

public commissions and exhibition opportunities, and would eanable communities to

become actively involved in identifying and encouraging their own emerging artists;

these artists, in turn, could act as catalysts to the creativity of others. Since the mid-

1980s, the Long Beach (Calf.) Redevelopment Authority (LBRA) has been

commissioning construction fence murals by community artists for numerous new large-

scale downtown developments. These community artist have worked with high school

students to create murals depicting lush tropical landscapes, trompe l’oeil theather

marquees, and lively dance parties which brighten the streets and provide glimpses of the

finished buildings that are to come. In one instance, a construction fence mural was so

successful that it became a permanent public artwork installed in the lobby of the

building it had encircled. Because completion of several major downtown building

projects is still years away, these community murals will continue to play a vital role in

sustaining the livablilty of downtown Long Beach.

        Community-based scaffolding artworks can be exciting visual additions to

streetscapes in transition. However, they can also act as identity markers which
communicate a neighborhood’s distinct personality to both visitors and residents. First,

scaffold artworks can depict images recalling historically significant people and events

that occurred in a particular place. Second, these artworks can serve as a sort of

community bulletin board, visually providing information about community services and

listing of events and activities. Third, they could take the form of a neighborhood map,

highlighting local points of interest and helping tourists and visitors find their way

around. Artworks for scaffolding can be installed on a temporary or rotating basis with

the final piece purchased by a local merchant or arts council, and installed in an interior

public space, such as a public school. In this way, a community would be able to start its

own collection of contemporary public art.

       As buildings continue to undergo repair and new ground continues to be broken in

cities around the world, scaffolding will be part of our urban backdrop for years to come.

However, artisitc attention, community involvement, and public sponsorship of art

projects for construction fences and scaffolding can tansform streescapes undergoing

urban face-lifts into uplifting public places. These projects can act as catalysts for the

creation of public collections of portable and temporary artworks that will have lasting

meaning to a community and give emerging public artists a chance to work in the public

domain. The results will surely send public art soaring to new heights.

Cynthia Nikitin is assistant vice-president of Project for Public Spaces in New York,
where she directs PPS’s public art programs.

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