Considered one of my companions burst into tears when taking a look at Brier Patch, Hugh Hayden’s new set up in Madison Sq. Park. This wasn’t due to the art work itself, which she proclaimed “cool and ugly on the similar time.” It was as a result of answering my query about what she considered the work brought on her to loosen her grasp on the balloon she was bringing dwelling from a kindergarten classmate’s birthday celebration.
Hayden has usual 100 college desks from cedar logs salvaged from the New Jersey Pine Barrens and put in them in 4 teams unfold throughout the park’s lawns. Spiny branches emerge from their seats and desktops, splaying off in all instructions. I needed to ask my kids what they thought concerning the work as a result of Hayden has defined that Brier Patch feedback on training.
The title refers to folktales a few wily rabbit who begs the fox who has captured him to not throw him into a close-by patch of thorny brambles. (In America, the folktales had been most famously reincarnated within the “Uncle Remus” tales about Br’er Rabbit.) The indignant fox, wishing to torment his sufferer, hurls him into the thorns … just for the rabbit to flee, since he is aware of navigate the seemingly impenetrable pathways by the patch.
As my daughter sobbed, my seven-year-old son delivered his opinion. He couldn’t inform whether or not the work was ugly or stunning, completely satisfied or unhappy. He would solely say that it made him really feel confused. Pissed off, I gave up on our cultural outing and delivered on the milkshakes I had promised from the in-park Shake Shack.
Again dwelling, studying Hayden’s interview with the New York Occasions, I noticed my son was not so obtuse in spite of everything. Hayden mentioned that Brier Patch’s branches might symbolize the obstacles to training typically current in the USA. Alternatively, he claims that the work also can symbolize that very same system’s advantages. Nobody might sit on these seats, however they may think about themselves discovering a inventive perch on the branches, sheltering inside the system. The work might be seen as a critique or a celebration — or each — relying on the customer’s body of reference.
Complicated, certainly. Or maybe a greater phrase could be evasive — Hayden escapes being pinned down by an interpretation simply as certainly as Br’er Rabbit escaped Br’er Fox.
The one factor Brier Patch isn’t is a brier patch. The work originated as an set up of six desks at White Columns in 2018. There, the desks had been pushed shut sufficient collectively that their branches intertwined, making a thicket within the gallery. However the desks within the park sit in extensively spaced aisles. The information of their branches brush up in opposition to one another overhead, like enclosed bowers arching over walks in a genteel backyard. Nothing would forestall you from shifting simply between the desks.
One of many 4 teams of desks is branch-free. In the course of the dense textual content on the park’s signage concerning the piece, a sentence notes that Hayden “affords” these desks to “people and teams to work together with the piece for contemplation or convening.” I haven’t but seen anybody take up this provide, maybe as a result of these desks are surrounded by a fence — a low one, to make sure, however nonetheless a barrier. The gentle, shiny cedar desktops, ripe for doodling or carving, and even staining with Shake Shack ketchup, stay unscathed, greater than a month into the set up’s January to Could run.
The Madison Sq. Park Conservancy, the nonprofit that manages the park by a public-private partnership, takes related care of the area’s different options. Its Shake Shack, the chain’s founding location and a vital companion within the park’s funds, bustles tidily. Dad and mom, whether or not of canines or kids, don’t have anything to complain about within the park’s runs and playground. Even pollinators are offered for, with 5 bee properties scattered amid the greenery. In the meantime, unhoused individuals, at-risk youth, protestors, and hustlers have in some way been inspired to remain six blocks south, in Union Sq. Park.
The Madison Sq. Park Conservancy has been commissioning non permanent artwork installations for the park since 2004. The indicators for Brier Patch describe “the varied vary” of this system’s artists, whereas informing us that the work attracts from Hayden’s “expertise as an American and African American.” Throughout the well-patrolled boundaries of the park, the place you might be by no means removed from a carefully worded fundraising enchantment, it’s onerous to not see Brier Patch as simply one other amenity, providing a pleasing alternative for advantage signaling.
A lot of Hayden’s different works, which additionally make surreal modifications to on a regular basis objects, have way more chew. His American Hero sequence, which started in 2010 with a taxidermized buffalo mount given cornrows, factors out the concealment of Black contributions to foundational American historical past. A sculpture of a police automobile draped in a white sheet, 2021’s “Boogey Man,” denounces the white supremacist beliefs that underlie police brutality. And Hayden has taken significant steps to assist others enter the brier patch of the artwork world, for instance by donating works to lift funds for tuition for Black MFA and artwork historical past college students and persuading the Public Artwork Fund to develop what had been a solo fee into a gaggle present for different younger artists of colour.
However within the rich bubble of Madison Sq. Park, Brier Patch permits viewers to pat themselves on the again for his or her mere consciousness of inequalities in our instructional programs. The mother and father strolling previous who ship their kids to personal faculties usually are not made to query their choices. The nannies whose personal kids are in sub-par public faculties usually are not inspired to protest that inequality. Everybody simply will get to take good Instagram photographs, because the work does certainly, as my daughter mentioned, look cool.
Brier Patch is a brief outside set up, not a public monument, and so I gained’t choose it as one. However, as we debate what varieties of recent monuments must be constructed to represent our altering understanding of our nation, it might probably function a reminder to ask about who’s paying. If a monument is seen as an amenity, it’s more likely to flip into one thing pleasing to probably the most influential and deep-pocketed members of a neighborhood, no matter an artist’s intent.
Hugh Hayden: Brier Patch continues at Madison Sq. Park (Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue between twenty third Road and twenty sixth Road, Flatiron and NoMad, Manhattan) by Could 1. The venture was organized by Brooke Kamin Rapaport, Deputy Director and Martin Friedman Chief Curator; Tom Reidy, Deputy Director, Finance and Particular Initiatives; and Reality Murray Cole, Curatorial Supervisor.