New Jersey’s Liberty Science Center Launches Its ‘Big Art’ Initiative With an Interactive Installation That Seems to Defy Gravity and Physics

"Both art and science get at big questions that are at the core of the human experience," said the institution's CEO.

Leandro Erlich with The Building at Liberty Science Center, Jersey City. Photo by BFA.

For children growing up in the New York City metro area over the last three decades, New Jersey’s Liberty Science Center looms large in the imagination as a place of endless experiments and creativity. Now, the interactive science museum and learning center is also becoming a hub for contemporary art, thanks to a new “Big Art” initiative that launched at the start of this month with two installations by artists Dustin Yellin and Leandro Erlich.

“When I was a kid, you sort of had to wear a badge that either said you were an art person or a science person, but I always thought that there was a false dichotomy,” Liberty Science Center president and CEO Paul Hoffman told Artnet News. “Both art and science get at big questions that are at the core of the human experience. Artists and scientists both take risks. The creativity involved is very similar.”

The large-scale art installations are part of a wider overhaul at the center in celebration of its 30th anniversary, which includes a new 30-acre campus. While the majority of the installations planned won’t be ready until 2025, in the meantime, Erlich agreed to kick off “Big Art” early with an ambitious artwork called The Building.

Leandro Erlich's The Building at Liberty Science Center, Jersey City. Photo by BFA.

Leandro Erlich’s The Building at Liberty Science Center, Jersey City. Photo by BFA.

The site-specific work, part of the Argentine conceptual artist’s renowned “Bâtiment” series, and the first one shown in the U.S., is an optical illusion that recreates the facade of a New York City apartment building in one-to-one scale—but it lies flat on the floor, reflected into a mirror angled above so that it appears that visitors interacting with the piece are literally scaling the walls or hanging precariously from the fire escapes.

Less monumental but equally stunning is Yellin’s sculpture The Politics of Eternity, a Boschian tableau made from 10,000 pounds of layers of glass laminating tens of thousands of paper cutouts and painted details. (There’s even, hidden somewhere in there, a tiny image of the Mona Lisa and a Where’s Waldo, which Yellin is confident will elude all but the most persistent searchers.)

“Leandro takes quotidian everyday objects and gets you to look at them in a different way,” Hoffman said. “Dustin’s piece is more phantasmagorical.”

Dustin Yellin with his piece The Politics of Eternity at Liberty Science Center, Jersey City. Photo by BFA.

Dustin Yellin with his piece The Politics of Eternity at Liberty Science Center, Jersey City. Photo by BFA.

In Yellin’s work, there are animal-headed figures surrounding an ancient totem on one side, and jetpack-powered astronauts building a technologically advanced society on the other, both burrowing into underground warrens, diving deep into the aquatic depths, and soaring toward the sun. Together, they tell an elaborate, seven-part story about civilization—past, present, and future.

“I’m really thrilled to present this work here,” Yellin said. “These kind of projects where we are able to collaborate and create things beyond the boundaries and specifications of our practice will lead us to something to new.… We can come up great new ideas that potentially help us with the challenges that we have ahead.”

The artist and a team of four assistants spent 20,000 hours making the piece over five years. This is the first time it’s been out of Yellin’s studio. (He hopes it will continue to travel to other institutions.)

Dustin Yellin, <em>The Politics of Eternity</em> (detail). Photo courtesy of Liberty Science Center, Jersey City.

Dustin Yellin, The Politics of Eternity (detail). Photo courtesy of Liberty Science Center, Jersey City.


“I think any institution that is creating a crossover of interdisciplinary things is building something unexpected,” Erlich said of the new initiative. Hoffman, who is effectively the institution’s curator, plans to stage two exhibitions a year, and is open to suggestions.

“We’re trying to make a statement with the art world that we’re open [and that] there are things that you can do in our space that you can’t necessarily do in a gallery,” he said. “I want stuff that can speak across ages, across cultures, across economic background.”

“The Building” and “The Politics of Eternity” are on view at Liberty Science Center, Liberty State Park, 222 Jersey City Boulevard, Jersey City, New Jersey.


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