High Art on the High Line

Bundle up and head outdoors to see some of the best work the city has to offer

20 Jan 2020 | 11:20

This season, there's no telling when it might snow, when the temperature might hit 70, or when the first bits of spring growth will start to break through the cold flower beds on the High Line. But there are already splendors to behold, thanks to extraordinary art installations.

The High Line's artworks rival those of the city's museums and the galleries on the streets of Chelsea, below. It's always worth a trip to see new work, or works you may have seen before, but in a new season, at a different time of day with different light, or surrounded by visitors bundled with scarves and hats if you last saw them in flip-flops and shorts. Art isn’t stable; it changes with the world around it and with the viewer.

Sculpture, Murals, Activism

Simone Leigh's monumental sculpture "Brick House" is the first commissioned installation for The Plinth, a recently opened section of the High Line dedicated to visual art. Her 16-foot tall bronze bust of a woman towers over Tenth Avenue at West 30th St. Leigh has recently been awarded the Studio Museum in Harlem’s Wein Artist Prize as well as the Hugo Boss prize, which led to her recent solo show at the Guggenheim. Her distinctive figurative works are an exploration, she has stated, of the concept of “black female subjectivity.” Her women read as vessels, as architectural spaces, as faceless icons and powerful totemic evocations of feminine power that is both protective and immutable. "Brick House," gazing down on the streets below in a way that seems to exist outside of time, will be on view through September, 2020.

Figurative painter Jordan Casteel often depicts her New York neighbors and friends in portraits. In December, near 22nd St., her first public artwork and first piece for the High Line, "The Baayfalls," was completed. It's a building-sized mural, hand painted, that recreates a 2017 double portrait. Her thoughtful, frank response to her subjects recalls the work of Alice Neel and Faith Ringgold, who, like Casteel, found inspiration in the people of Harlem. Finding a complex, sensitive portrait on the side of the building also offers reflections on advertising, mass media, and the meaning or relative meaninglessness of the countless, sometimes larger than life, images we encounter every day.

Ruth Ewan's clock, "Silent Agitator" visible from 24th St., isn't a recording of hours, but a call to action. The piece reads "Time to Organize" reflecting Ewan's longtime activist practice of lending her creative voice to workers, communities and social causes. Ewan stated, when it was installed, that she hoped the public might use it as a meeting place – a starting point for marching towards change.

Banners, Doors, Surprises

Throughout the High Line, a group show "En Plein Air" is on view through March 20. In the area of the Western Rail Yards, you'll find Daniel Buren banners fluttering in the wind. They're bold, bright, kinetic, shapes with graphic colors and simple forms, recalling Op Art and Pop, but Buren adds a sound element, with words in several languages. Suddenly, innocent banners taken on attributes of national flags and bring up all kinds of questions for today's world, though they're the continuation of work he began decades ago.

Lubaina Himid utilizes doors, with all their implicit readings – passages, openings, and barriers – to serve as her "canvases." "Five Conversations" presents female figures, painted in flat, bright, ebullient colors on doors placed amidst a small stand of birch trees. The Tanzanian artist creates works that are at once both two- and three-dimensional, with subjects that communicate both with each other and with the viewer.

Specially commissioned new works by Ei Arakawa, Firelei Báez, Sam Falls, Lara Schnitger, Ryan Sullivan, and Vivian Suter are also included in "En Plein Air." Sometimes a surprise engagement with a work of art is a pure gift, when out for a walk. But it's also worth it to make the High Line's art a destination. The millions of people who visit the park annually often make for crowded paths. In winter, even if the pace is quicker, the mood is quieter offering a museum-like experience. And it's all free for the taking.

IF YOU GO

What: Art on the High Line

Where: The High Line, Gansevoort St. to Hudson Yards, West of Tenth Ave.

When: Year round. See story for some viewing dates.