Public eye: Matthias Alfen, 46

New York street interviews: Stories from the sidewalk as told by real New Yorkers about their lives in the city that never sleeps.

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Photograph: Allison Michael Orenstein


Madison Ave at 82nd St

I’m actually a little bit scared of you. [Laughs] People seem to be having a whole range of emotions.

What are you? Well, I’ve been a sculptor for many years. This is part of my “Body Mobiles” series, which blurs the boundaries between the sculptor and the sculpture.

And you’re bringing the art to the people—very populist. Yeah. Most sculptures just sit there in a museum or gallery. I felt a mobile art show needed to be done.

How does it feel to have people run screaming from you? Actually, most people come up to have their photo taken. I’m treated like a celebrity. I once went to see the Mona Lisa in France. There was this railing, and people stood in line as if they were waiting to see George Clooney or something. I find that so strange.

Where are you from? Originally, Germany.

Berlin gets a pretty great rap. I lived in Berlin for seven years. It was an outsider place at the time with interesting artists.

Were you there when the wall came down? Yeah. I was there with a little hammer. People were sharing champagne and lifting cars up and celebrating.

Did you keep a piece of it? Yes, I have one. It’s so funny—when I got to New York, they were selling pieces of the wall in little boxes. When, of course, you could go somewhere in the Bronx and cut out a piece of a graffitied concrete wall and sell it. I’ve been in New York for 15 years and am naturalizing now.

Do you have to take some long test with obscure questions about America in it? Something like that. I’ve been here so long that when I go back to Germany, I feel really strange. What I like about the States is that it’s a place where new ideas are more likely to take hold.

Do you mean all of the U.S. or just New York City? New York—people here have a world-citizenship thing going. No one looks out of place here.

Ha, except you. I don’t really either! People look at me and I hear them say, “Only in New York.”

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