Martin Puryear’s ‘Big Bling’: Manhattan’s Spirit Animal?

THE DAILY PIC: Puryear's public sculpture feels like the beast within buildings, let out to play.

THE DAILY PIC (#1658): Yesterday, Mad. Sq. Arts announced that Martin Puryear’s Big Bling would be extending its visit to Madison Square Park in New York all the way through April 2. I was surprised to find myself pleased at the news, because I would normally think of a public sculpture like Puryear’s as thoughtless plop art – big bling, indeed, for a corporatized urban fabric.

But there’s something about Puryear’s piece that makes it seem unusually alive and almost necessary to the park it’s been in since May. For one thing, it feels big enough to truly claim its space, whereas almost all other postwar plop art has felt too small for the vast architectural settings it has been plopped into. Even a huge Calder or Oldenburg has a very hard time competing with a 40-story building. Big Bling has such a strong animal presence, however, that it feels enlarged and mammoth (literally) rather than overshadowed. That is, it feels like the world’s biggest beast rather than like an urban tchotchke that’s notably smaller than all the other man-made structures around it.

The other problem with the more old-fashioned kinds of public sculpture has been their poor fit with their settings – their lack of “site specificity,” to use a tired term, that meant they could be plopped down anywhere and so didn’t feel necessary to any one particular place. But Big Bling, with its animal energies and presence, feels like a perfect companion to the trees that it is nestled among, while the building materials it is made from give it a solid link to the architecture the park is surrounded by. If the Empire State Building had an animal alter-ego – a “totem creature,” as Manhattan’s original inhabitants might have conceived it – it would look like Big Bling, and would be sure to be seen lumbering among the trees as dusk turns to night in Madison Square Park. We’ll see what happens there on Hallowe’en. (Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, © Martin Puryear, photo by Yasunori Matsui)

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