There are all sorts of unusual things to be seen on the streets of New York City — so much so that out-of-the-ordinary sights are often ignored. But that will be difficult to do with an art installation due to open on Broadway in April 2019.
A dozen huge bird sculptures — some bigger than a minivan — will alight on Broadway, stretching from 64th Street north to 166th Street in Manhattan. Called the Nicolas Holiber: Birds on Broadway, Audubon Sculpture Project, the exhibition features much-larger-than-life works by artist Nicolas Holiber.
The huge sculptures are being constructed from reclaimed wood gathered from the streets of the city. The goal of the project is to call attention to just a few of the many birds threatened by climate change.
Holiber chose the birds from the National Audubon Society's 2014 Birds and Climate Change Report. The report classified 314 species — nearly half of all the birds in North America — as severely threatened by global warming. From that list of 145 birds, Holiber focused on those that live or migrate through New York City.
"When I first looked at the list, I was amazed at how many bird go through New York City. It's amazing that New York City has all these diverse habitats," Holiber tells MNN. "I picked these 12 birds basically to show the public what an amazingly diverse species pass through New York City, but in my opinion, these are also the most eye-catching on the list."
The birds include the brightly colored scarlet tanager, the double-crested cormorant, the peregrine falcon and the snowy owl.
"I got to pick whatever would be fun to make," Holiber says. "When we paint them, they’re all going to be true to how the birds appear in real life."
Here's a time-lapse video of the first phase of the brant goose.
Working with reclaimed materials
Holiber grew up just outside of New York City. He attended the University of Vermont, then got his master's at the New York Academy of Art where he studied traditional techniques in painting, drawing and sculpture.
When he received a fellowship after earning his degree, he was able to devote a year to teaching and focusing on his new interest in sculpture. As a student without a lot of money, Holibere needed a material that was cheap and easy to get, so he started using reclaimed wood from shipping pallets.
"It was a super-new experience for me. I always thought art took place in the studio, and I was used to being in front of a canvas. That whole process of getting found materials broadened my horizons and pushed me out of my comfort zone."
In 2015, Holiber made 'Head of Goliath,' a giant sculpture constructed from reclaimed wood that sat (on its side) in Tribeca Park in Manhattan.
Those early "weird, mutant things" — as Holiber describes them — are what made him a natural for the Audubon project.
"The reason I came into this project was because of the material I use. It's just a great connection to the message we're sending about the birds and the environment," he says.
Go big or go home
The size of the sculptures isn't daunting at all, Holiber says. Some of the largest ones will be the size of a van or an SUV. The Brant goose, for example, is about 8 1/2 feet tall and 11 feet long.
"I prefer working big. I find it really frustrating to work on a small scale," he says. "When I can move around the structure and it becomes a full body movement rather than a finger or hand, I’m much better at it."
Many of the sculptures have to be big for practical reasons, too, since they'll be on the streets of New York with pedestrians constantly darting around them.
"A lot of them have to be so big because of the beaks," Holiber says. "I don’t want anyone hitting their head or running into the beaks or it would be hazardous."
From the warehouse to the streets
Holiber is working with a local company that collects salvageable materials from throughout the city. His studio is a warehouse where he's joined by an assistant, Vito, who also happens to be a dog.
Although many of the materials are donated, there's a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to help pay for the installation and transportation of the work.
Of course Holiber is happy to showcase his art, but he says education about the birds is the main focus of the exhibit.
Each sculpture will have information about the bird and the threats it faces, as well as information about climate change and predicted habitat losses. "I hope that people really get into the message we're sending about these birds," he says.
The exhibition is in partnership with New York City Audubon, Broadway Mall Association, New York City Parks Department, and Gitler &_____ gallery. It's scheduled to run from April through December 2019.