NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).-
On a blistering afternoon in late August, a dedicated crew of construction workers moved through the corridor connecting Times Square and Grand Central Station, home to the 42nd Street Shuttle. Here, under the streets of New York, more than two dozen figures made of vibrant glass danced along the subway walls.
On Friday, MTA Arts & Design will officially unveil Every One, the first of a three-piece installation by artist Nick Cave, inside the new 42nd Street connector. The other two parts Each One at the new shuttle entrance and Equal All on the center island platform wall will be installed next year.
The $1.8 million budget for the project, commissioned by MTA Arts & Design, is part of the overall project to rebuild and reconfigure the 42nd Street Shuttle, which cost more than $250 million.
Cave a sculptor, dancer and performance artist is known for his Soundsuits, wearable fabric sculptures made of materials such as twigs, wire, raffia and even human hair that often generate sound when the wearer moves. (Hes also no stranger to staging art in train stations: In 2017, he brought a herd of 30 colorful life-size horses to Grand Central Terminals Vanderbilt Hall.)
Walking along the new and improved corridor, figures on the wall are depicted leaping and twirling in mosaic Soundsuits.
Its almost like looking at a film strip, Cave said in an interview from his studio in Chicago. As youre moving down that from left to right, you see it in motion.
Since the sculptor was selected from a pool of artists in February 2018, he wondered and worried: How would a dynamic, flowing Soundsuit transition into a static mosaic? He was relieved by the answer: Seamlessly.
When Cave came to New York to see Every One in early August, he said, I felt like I was in the middle of a performance, up close and personal.
You just felt this fast, different, visceral texture, he added, the sensation in the movement and the flow of the material that completely resonated.
The Soundsuits have always been an amalgam of cultural references, Cave explained: the concepts of shamans and masquerade, obscuring the race, gender and class of the wearer and forging a new identity. They contain ties to Africa, the Caribbean and Haiti.
Its very important that you can make references, you can connect to something, Cave said. In one of the mosaics in the corridor, theres a sneaker. So that brings it to this urban, right-now time.
From beneath a pink-and-black cloak of raffia, carefully crafted out of glass shards, pokes a contemporary sneaker in shades of salmon, white and maroon. Cave likes the play thats happening here: The form is sometimes figurative, sometimes abstract. Sometimes its identifiable and sometimes its not, he said. But thats the beauty of it all.
After completing the design for Every One in early 2020, the sculptor selected fabricator Franz Mayer of Munich from a list provided by MTA Arts & Design. His company, Mayer of Munich one of the worlds oldest architectural glass and mosaic studios understood Caves vision.
Mayer of Munich has been in the family of Michael Mayer, its current managing director, for generations. (Michael Mayer is Franz Mayers great-grandson.) Once the German fabricator gets to know the artist and their perspective, the team can translate the scanned designs of the work into a mosaic.
The artists, Mayer said, theyre the people with the magic.
The fabricator prints out the designs to-scale, lays them out on a table and works on top of them. Caves particular mosaic was done in a positive setting method, meaning the glass pieces were glued directly onto a mesh backing rather than creating the design backward, like a mirror image.
What is the stone that goes to the next, and creates a certain symphony? Mayer said about the process. His team cut the glass pieces, applied them to mesh mats, and then the mosaic slowly and gradually grew outward. The finished piece measures about 143 feet on one side and 179 feet on the other, broken up by 11 digital screens in the middle. For three out of every 15 minutes, those screens will play videos of dancers performing in Soundsuits.
Shortly before the shutdown, Mayer visited Cave in his studio in Chicago. Then the artist came to see the work in progress in Munich.
Although this represented Caves first time working with mosaics, he is now more than interested in using the medium again.
Im thinking about mosaic as sculpture not that its just on the walls, that it exists within space that you walk around the work, Cave said. So yeah, Ive been thinking about it since I walked into that space.
And at 42nd Street, his work will keep company with giants: Jacob Lawrences New York in Transit, Jack Beals The Return of Spring and The Onset of Winter, and Jane Dicksons The Revelers are all glass mosaics in the Times Square station.
Roy Lichtenstein created his Times Square Mural in porcelain enamel. And Samm Kunces Under Bryant Park is a mosaic made of glass and stone.
Times Square, its the center of the world, of the country, Cave said.
Sandra Bloodworth, the longtime director of MTA Arts & Design, emphasized the artists focus on other artists.
Cave is, she said, an artist who cares about people, who is so connected to community and so connected to peoples feelings.
To have an artist who is grounded in that be the work that were going to see as we return, she continued, as everyone comes back and the city revitalizes, the timing is just absolutely perfect.
Every One is all about movement, Cave said. The glass dancers in their raffia and fur Soundsuits reflect the hustle and bustle of the more than 100,000 people who rode the 42nd Street Shuttle daily before the pandemic up to 10,000 riders per hour.
On that blistering day in late August, the motion captured on the walls matched what was happening along the corridor under construction. A man in a hard hat sliced through stone in the middle of the hallway with a water-jet cutter. Another man carefully polished the freshly installed mosaic with glass cleaner and steel wool. Sweat dripped and workers buzzed around, building new tracks.
We are not only spectators, Cave said, but were also part of the performance.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times