Once Slated for Demolition, the Final Section of High Line Park Launches as a New Platform for Contemporary Art Commissions

Simone Leigh is the first artist to be tasked with creating a work for the space.

Simone Leigh, Brick House, one of the recent High Line Art installations. Photo courtesy of the High Line.

Ten years after the initial opening of New York City’s High Line park, the final section of the beloved elevated greenway opened to the public today with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and the presentation of the first monumental sculpture commissioned for the park’s new dedicated space for contemporary art.

The 16-foot-tall bronze work by Simone Leigh, titled Brick House, combines the bust of a black woman with the form of a clay house inspired by the architecture of both the American South and West Africa. A tribute to black feminine beauty and strength, the piece stands as a beacon overlooking 10th Avenue. Selected from 12 shortlisted proposals, the work will be on view for 18 months before being succeeded by the next commission.

“Less than ten years ago, I kind of thought we would lose this piece that we are standing on,” said High Line co-founder Robert Hammond at the ceremony, recalling the “Save Our Spur” campaign that convinced the real estate developer Related Companies to donate this section of the tracks, called “the spur,” to the public.

“There were heroic defenders who fought for the spur with exceptional passion and brilliance,” added co-founder Joshua David, who thanked the city, specifically former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for championing the public-private partnership with Friends of the High Line. He even singled out former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who planned to tear down the abandoned rail line. “Then as now, he was such an energizing adversary. Our supporters became triply motivated fighting against him.”

Simone Leigh's Brick House at High Line park. Photo by Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images.

Simone Leigh’s Brick House at High Line park. Photo by Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images.

Government officials were on hand for the occasion, including Corey Johnson, speaker of the New York City Council, and New York City parks commissioner Mitchell Silver.

“Too many times as New Yorkers or as visitors, we have to pay to see our city, but not here at the High Line,” said Manhattan borough president Gale Brewer. “This is the example of where the magic can happen when communities organize and work in partnership with city government.”

The spur’s opening marks the 20th anniversary of the founding of Friends of the High Line in 1999, and the tenth anniversary of the opening of the first phase of the High Line, from Gansevoort Street to West 20th Street. The second section, up to West 30th Street, opened in 2011, followed in 2014 by the northernmost section, turning west toward 11th Avenue and ending at West 34th Street. Construction began on the spur, which branches off to the East at 10th Avenue and West 30th Street, in 2012. The last trains ran on the tracks back in the early 1980s.

A rail extension built in 1934, the spur once connected the High Line to the James Farley Post Office, allowing trains to deliver mail directly. Now, the new Coach headquarters at neighboring Hudson Yards juts out over the spur, creating the 60-foot-ceilings of the Coach Passage, named in honor of the handbag company’s capital campaign donation.

Simone Leigh,<em>Brick House</em> at the Spur, the last section of the original structure of the High Line to be converted into public space in New York. Photo by Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images.

Simone Leigh’s Brick House at High Line park. Photo by Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images.

The new section is expected to become a venue for public programming, with the largest seating area in the entire park.

“It’s a place to view art, it’s a place to dance, it’s a place to listen to music, and it’s a place to be engaged by the neighborhood activities,” said Rick Scofidio of architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, which conceived the design with landscape architect James Corner of the firm Field Operations and planting designer Piet Oudolf.

Events kicked off with a celebratory performance by Toshi Reagon of her composition I Walk the West Side Line, inspired by Claudia Rankine’s poem “We Are Here.” Rankine’s sound art installation of the same name, commissioned by the High Line, can be experienced in the park from June 5 through July 5, 2019.

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