You almost got me, Inhabitat. Almost. Yesterday, in the spirit of April Fools' Day, the sustainable design website published a mock news article, complete with faux rendering, announcing that New York City’s dizzying marvel of landscape architecture and urban design known as the High Line would be getting a monorail-esque people mover to transport throngs of camera-wielding tourists and locals from one end of the abandoned elevated railway-turned-destination park to the other. “While the original rails will still be daintily planted with wildflowers and grasses, a high-speed levitating train line will be built alongside the park to transport tired and crowd-weary tourists the 1.3 miles, end to end,” reads the post.
It wasn’t until the second paragraph of the article that I started to realize that I had been had. One of the reasons that I nearly fell for the joke is Inhabitat’s frequent and frequently breathless coverage of all things High Line-related. For lack of a better phrase, the website has been all over the project — including the recently unveiled plans for the third and final phase of the park — like nontoxic, locally sourced glue. To see another post about the High Line, no matter how implausible, didn’t really phase me initially. It kind of made sense … but not really at all.
And I can also thank Jeff Koons for initially falling for the prank as a just-as-questionable, tourist-centric addition conceived by the pop artist/provocateur really could be coming to the High Line in future. The addition in question? “Train,” a full-sized replica of a 1943 Baldwin 2900 steam locomotive that would be dangled vertically above the High Line from a crane.
The 70-foot, several ton sculpture, which would cost around $25 million to build and install, would spin its wheels, belch steam, and blow a horn much to the horror/pleasure of those standing directly beneath it on the yet-to-be-built 10th Avenue Spur, which will be one of the park’s major gathering spots. And on the topic of horror, apparently the sculpture would employ a gyroscope to keep it from swaying in the wind. Robert Hammond, co-founder of the nonprofit Friends of the High Line, tells the New York Times, “It would actually be fine if it blew in the wind, but that might make people feel uncomfortable. People used to think they’d be uncomfortable with the High Line itself, that visitors would jump off or throw things from it.”
Koons, a polarizing, attention-grabbing artist best known for his work with giant topiary terriers, balloon animals, and Italian porn stars, says of the concept: “The power and the dynamic of the ‘Train’ represents the ephemeral energy that runs through the city every day.” Tom Eccles, former director of the Public Art Fund, counts himself as an admirer of the audacious project. “Like any Jeff Koons work, it is strikingly simple, ingenious and probably one of the most amazing things you’ll ever see,” he tells the Times. “It’s like picking up a dog by its tail, with the legs still running. In some ways, it’s suspended between the past and the future. Were one to commission a site-specific work for the High Line, you probably couldn’t have come up with a better piece.”
Others, myself included, aren’t exactly fans. Some choice words from NYT commenters: “knee-jerk idea,” “pitifully trite,” “absolutely moronic,” “laughable.” Others are more supportive.
Personally, I can think of plenty of other ways $25 million could be spent around the city on public art and urban renewal projects that doesn’t involve dangling fabricated trains from cranes. It’s uber-dramatic, for sure, and will snag those much-desired tourist dollars but is the natural beauty-filled High Line — wildflowers! trees! insane Hudson river views! — really the place for a bombastic Koons mega-sculpture? For me, the power of the High Line rests in its landscape architecture.
And to be clear, “Train” wasn’t conceived specifically for placement at the High Line. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which already has several Koons pieces on display including “Michael Jackson and Bubbles,” expressed interest in “Train” several years back and went as far as to conduct feasibility studies but ultimately scrapped the project due to its complex and pricey nature. Still, the LACMA “Train” project hasn’t been completely shelved, leading to the possibility that there could be two sculptures, one on both coasts, if either ever get the full go-ahead. The Friends of the High Line actually eyed "Train' way back before the first phase of the aerial greenway opened to the public in 2009 but found that the project was simply too massive to be installed.
Koons fans and haters (and I know there are plenty of both), what do you think of “Train?” High Line lovers: Do you think “Train” would be a welcome addition once the third section of the park is completed in 2014? Or do you find it a potentially terrifying waste of money? Have the High Line overlords lost the plot?
Image: Friends of the High Line
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