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Teresita Fernández recounts her remarkable public art career

The artist explains her new Madison Square Park installation and her previous public-art favorites

Written by
Howard Halle

Over the past 15 years, artist Teresita Fernández has created more than a dozen public art projects that put the viewer in the role of both spectator and performer. Recalling natural phenomena, her evocative installations, which could be called conceptual landscapes, often rely on optical illusions that become more magical with repeated visits. She talks about her new piece, Fata Morgana, at Madison Square Park, and the earlier works that led to it.

Teresita Fernández, Fata Morgana is at Madison Square Park through winter 2016.

Photograph: Courtesy the artist, Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong, and Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco

Fata Morgana, 2015, Madison Square Park, New York, NY 

“I could have put something in the middle of the park, but I chose to build over the paths, because they’re a microcosm of urban activity. Also, I wanted to make an outdoor sculpture that was immersive, instead of just something to be viewed. A fata morgana is a kind of mirage where land seems to hover above the horizon. The piece is trying to make something like that, a distortion of the urban landscape. It’s about illusion and camouflage.”

Photograph: Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin New York/Hong Kong

Bamboo Cinema, 2001, Madison Square Park, New York, NY

“This piece, which I also did for Madsion Square Park, was based on an early cinematic device called a zoetrope, which had slits cut into it. When the zoetrope was spun, you looked through the slits, and a sequence of drawings seemed to move. I used green plastic tubes to frame spaces that functioned like those slits, creating a zoetrope effect when people moved through or around the structure.”

Photograph: Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin New York/Hong Kong

Seattle Cloud Cover, 2006, Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle, WA

“Seattle Cloud Cover is on a pedestrian walkway that goes over Olympic Sculpture Park [in Seattle], linking one part of the site with another. I covered it in glass panels interlaid with photographic images of clouds. I perforated each with circular openings, so visitors can see downtown Seattle flickering as they walk by. Or they can look at the city through the holes. The effect of light on it changes with the seasons and time of day, depending on the sun.”

Photograph: Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin New York/Hong Kong

Blind Blue Landscape, 2009, Naoshima, Japan

“I worked on a curved blue wall facing a window in a hotel on Naoshima, an amazing art island in the Seto Inland Sea of Japan. The work consisted of 15,000 little glass cubes each of which became sort of a miniature landscape painting reflecting the environment outside of the building. When spectators looked at the piece, they’d see a reflection of the scene behind them, plus their own image included within it.”

Photograph: Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin New York/Hong Kong

Stacked Waters, 2009, Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, TX

“The museum atrium, with its arches, staircase and skylight, reminded me of Roman architecture, so I thought of the installation as ancient cistern filled with water. I tried to visually unify the space with these blue acrylic panels on the walls that reflected the atrium and the visitors moving through it. I stacked the panels to create a pattern of stripes (the title refers to Donald Judd’s stacked sculptures), thinking of each as a water line that seem to change as you interacted with it—so that, for example, when you got to the top of the stairs, the water line was down around your ankles. It’s about the sensorial aspect of moving through a space that evokes water.”

Photograph: Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin New York/Hong Kong

Yellow Mountains, 2011, Louis Vuitton, Shanghai

“I made this for the Louis Vuitton store in Shanghai. It’s named for the Huangshan or Yellow Mountains, which are reproduced in many Chinese paintings. Wanting the piece to relate to its surroundings, I took a drawing of the mountains and flipped it upside down, dangling metallic strands and fool’s gold to create its form. So a Chinese landscape becomes something cosmic over your head.”

Photograph: Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin New York/Hong Kong

Hothouse, 2000, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

“This was my first public work, which I made for the atrium of the Museum of Modern Art, when it was removing the garden to prepare for construction of the expansion that eventually opened in 2004. I created a plastic pattern that fit into the windows, the back of  which was bright green to create an optical illusion of ghostlike vines on trellises, that were visible as you went up and down the escalator.”

Photograph: Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin New York/Hong Kong

Nocturnal (Navigation), 2013, United States Coast Guard, Washington, D.C.

“This is a very large piece that most people will never see because it’s located in the headquarters for the United States Coast Guard in Washington DC. It’s not open to the public, but it is a huge campus with tens of thousands of people working there. I wanted to do a piece about using the stars for navigation, which were the earliest form of plotting a route. So I created a kind of map, using chromed-metal forms, resembling chunks of iron ore, connected by brass rods. The piece is designed so that the shadows of the building’s open structure work with it, instead of against it.”

See the exhibition

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