Splashy Art

One of the manmade waterfalls in New York Harbor

My wife and I are visiting New York for a few days, and are lucky enough to be here when the waterfall art project by the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson in New York Harbor. It consists of four, 8- to 10-story scaffolds with high-powered pumps that take their water from the East River, raise it, only to drop it from thundering heights.

For an Icelandic artist named Olafur, I thought the installation was surprisingly accessible. After all, Bjork is Icelandic, and she’s ready to throw on a dead swan wherever people are handing out statues.

The artist’s motivation was this: The harbor used to be busy; it’s not busy anymore; the waterfalls are meant to make the harbor look busy. And isn’t it every artist’s secret motto, whenever the people with the grant money are watching, to “look busy?”

It’s not the easiest exhibit to figure out how to see. The Circle Line is having a mini-boom over it (note the crowd of boats in the above photo), but their twist is to give you a rain slicker and actually get you drenched by that art, a sort-of homage to the “Maid of the Mist” in Niagara Falls. I carry way too many bits of electronics on my person for that to be a possibility.

Another way would be to take a taxi to Brooklyn so you could see all four falls (the prominent one is located under the Brooklyn Bridge, and can only otherwise be seen from about forty blocks north on the Manhattan side). But come on, this is the Brooklyn Bridge here, you just gotta walk it.

And so we did. One of the members of our party decided to wear flip-flops for the trip, which wasn’t a great idea. She was also immensely satisfied when we came to the spot where Miranda gets together with some guy in the “Sex and the City” movie. So there wasn’t a lot motivating all of us to the other side. We would settle for seeing three of the four waterfalls.

Then, on the way back, the Band-Aid fell off her chafed, poorly-clad feet, and when she bent down to fix it, she spotted the last scaffold directly beneath us. I managed to reach my camera under the walkway and snap this photo through the bridge infrastructure:

Waterfall #4

And so we did it. Like the waterfalls themselves, I felt that the level of artistic accomplishment was fleeting. But it was cool and big and made a lovely roar to drown out the taxis on the bridge.

And it gave us an excuse to walk the Brooklyn Bridge, an artistic achievement of a somewhat greater permanence.

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