Is New York’s Star-Studded Water Tank Project for Real This Time?

Water Tank Project. Photo: courtesy the Water Tank Project.
Water Tank Project. Photo: courtesy the Water Tank Project.

In its June issue, ARTnews revisits that old chestnut, the Water Tank Project, which was first announced, with much fanfare, back in 2012 (see Gallerist report). Although it’s been a while since anything’s been heard of the project, it seems it might finally be happening. Or not.

A public art installation conceived of by filmmaker Mary Jordan based on her experiences in Ethiopia, the Water Tank Project is organized by Word Above the Street. It promises to transform 300 water tanks on rooftops across New York City into artworks in order to promote awareness of the scarcity of water in third world countries.

“Water is our most challenged but taken-for-granted resource. It’s all around us but virtually invisible,” Neville Wakefield, part of the project’s curatorial team, told ARTnews. “By drawing attention to the water tanks, we hope to alert the world to the wastage of our most precious commodity.”

Water Tank Project. Photo: courtesy the Water Tank Project.

Water Tank Project.
Photo: courtesy the Water Tank Project.

Considering how ubiquitous rooftop water tanks are in this city, they are easily overlooked. Did you know, for instance, that they typically measure 12 feet tall and 13 feet across, and are generally made of redwood? When the Water Tank Project is done with them, 300 of them will be plastered with original artworks, digitally scanned, printed on vinyl material, and carefully installed.

Although it claimed to have a bevy of big-name backers, including the Ford Foundation, Agnes Gund, and the Lily Auchincloss Foundation, the project received a significant setback when a Kickstarter campaign for $1 million in funding stalled out at a comparatively paltry $53,422.

Back in 2012, an impressive roster of artists were said to be on board, including Ed Ruscha, Jeff Koons, Catherine Opie, and Marilyn Minter. Intriguingly, rapper Jay Z was apparently going to try his hand at visual art with a water tank of his own—unclear whether or not he’s still involved. Fifteen of the tanks would have featured artwork selected from submissions to an open call, while others would bear designs from local high school students thanks to Studio in a School.

Currently, the Water Tank Project website promises a spring 2014 launch—sometime in the next nine days, in other words—with a full slate of tours, talks, education programs, parties, and events. It sounds great, but leaves a pretty slim window to get this project off the ground (no pun intended). The ARTnews article suggests a July debut (meaning summer, not spring), but does not provide a concrete date, nor much info about any of the art. (“The organizers are keeping details of the designs under wraps until the works begin to pop up around the city next month,” as the article puts it.)

It sounds like a worthy cause, and could potentially lead to some interesting art, but artnet News isn’t totally convinced that this project will actually come to fruition. Luckily, there are at least two water tanks visible from the artnet News office, so we’ll keep an eye out just in case a Koons suddenly appears on either of them.

Water Tank Project. Photo: courtesy the Water Tank Project.

Water Tank Project. Photo: courtesy the Water Tank Project.


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