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Roxy Paine’s stainless-steel boulders

Roxy Paine’s stainless-steel boulders

A decaying no-go zone in the 1990s, Madison Square Park is now a verdant oasis that draws thousands of people every day during the warmer months. This reversal of fortune is largely thanks to the efforts of the not-for-profit organization Madison Square Conservancy, which has created a cultural program to tempt people in—and keep crime out. “One thing experts on cities seem to agree on is the way to make a park safe is to give people a reason to go into it,” says deputy director Stewart Desmond. “That’s why we have the Shake Shack, that’s why we have concerts and that’s why we have art, because by bringing people into the park, you drive out potential bad uses.”

Two concert series—the multigenre Mad. Sq. Music on Wednesday evenings from June through August and the Studio Series focusing on folk and blues on Saturday afternoons from August through October—provide the perfect incentive for lazy picnics; themed Thursday-evening Mad. Sq. Reads (June through August) have boasted such literati as Gloria Steinem; and the summer Mad. Sq. Kids program offers everything from puppet shows to music on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. But the undoubted star is Mad. Sq. Art, a “gallery without walls” featuring four exhibitions a year by internationally known artists.

From large-scale sculpture to site-specific installations in a variety of media, the works give a fresh perspective on the park: Last year, Roxy Paine’s stainless-steel trees and boulders played on themes of nature and urban architecture, and a video by William Wegman, displayed on outdoor monitors, featured his signature Weimaraners in the same setting in which it was viewed. “We started out with physical sculpture,” says Desmond, “but in the last couple of years we started to see that we could extend the range of what we can do outdoors to new media—whether it’s video, the Internet, sound, or things we haven’t even thought of yet.”

Following German-based artists Olia Lialina and Dragan Espenschied’s manipulated website installations, Online Newspapers (ending April 27), seven ceramic sculptures—including four new works—by British artist Richard Deacon will be dotted around the lawns from May 15 to August 31. From September to November, Tadashi Kawamata will populate the park with handmade tree huts—his first major U.S. installation since 1992. This will be followed by Pulse Park, a four-week, site-specific light sculpture by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer.

Some pieces become such a part of the landscape, it can be hard to see them go. “We get heartbroken comments from people when a show goes down: ‘Oh, couldn’t it stay up? Couldn’t you just keep it?’” says Desmond. “In order to have a temporary sculpture program, things have to leave, but it’s nice that people develop attachments. Sometimes they don’t, and that’s okay too. Sometimes they say, ‘I’m glad that’s going.’”

For more information, visit madisonsquarepark.org.

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