Among the iconic sculptures that dot the landscape of the East End of Long Island, a new one has emerged. Donald Baechler’s Walking Figure, a 30-foot-tall aluminum work depicting a cartoonish girl in mid-stride, was installed last week in the center of a traffic circle at the entrance of Gabreski Airport in Westhampton where it is plainly visible to commuters along Old Riverhead Road, a main artery to the Hamptons. And local residents are enraged by the 5,000-pound behemoth.
“If that’s art, I’m Michelangelo!!” said one commenter on the Greater Westhampton Chamber of Commerce Facebook page. Another noted, “Ugly and ‘in your face’ every time you drive by. Try putting this in your yard and see how fast you are taken to court!!!”
The Hamptons have been home to many notable artists, among them Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, and Willem de Kooning, and art fairs, parties, and fundraisers abound during the summer months, making the Hamptons a seemingly fitting home for outdoor sculptures such as Baechler’s. Nonetheless, public sculpture has often caused contention. Recall Larry Rivers’s sculpture of an oversized pair of “legs” which caused an uproar in Sag Harbor in 2012 when they were installed at the side of a home, representing to many locals the values of the snobby Manhattanites who take up residence during the summer months.
The Manhattan-based Baechler has said that the sculpture, which was created at an Arizona-based foundry, “embodies the concept of forward motion.” “The ‘Walking Figure’ is always going into the future, going into whatever,” he told Newsday. “I think the whole idea of an airport is exactly about that, going from one place to another. It seems like not an inappropriate subject.”
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