VIDEO: New Times Square Installation Provokes Tourists

Cuban artist Arlés del Rio tests freedom of movement.


From now until August 18th, visitors to Times Square will see—and interact with—something unexpected: 17 sections of chain-link fence, scattered around the Europeanized plazas of New York’s most famous hub. Each is pierced with one or more silhouette-shaped hole, rimmed in bright, construction-site orange, so that passersby can actually walk through the sculpture as they cross through Times Square.

These artworks are collectively called Nearness, and are the brainchild of Cuban artist Arlés del Rio. Manufactured in Cuba, the sculptures are in fact not real sections of chain-link fences, but meticulously sculpted out of copper, and painted. They are the product of nine months of collaboration between the artist and the Times Square Alliance.

“This is our fifth collaboration with the Cuban Artist Fund, looking at artists who often wouldn’t have the ability to show potentially in the United States and putting them on one of the most public platforms,” explains Sherry Dobbin of Times Square Arts.

The obvious themes of Nearness are separation and connection, taking something that normally divides people and turning it into a passage—a theme that might have some particular poignancy in the case of a Cuban artist, given the difficulties of movement between the US and Cuba. At the same time, Dobbin says, the work has particular significance in the location of Times Square, which is undergoing its own process of transformation and reconstruction.

As for the vast numbers of pedestrians that flow through Times Square each day, whether or not the themes of Nearness register or resonate, the work is definitely a hit. Says Dobbin, “The public has been engaging with it so much that we’ve had to deal with a lot more maintenance that we anticipated.”

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