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New York has a new contender for ugliest public artwork

Howard Halle

New Yorkers are a fairly sophisticated bunch as a rule, and usually appreciative of public artworks, even ones of questionable taste. One piece planned for Long Island City, however, has caused an uproar, and for good reason: The work is by any objective or subjective standard hideous. The creation of Israelis sculptor Ohad Meromi, Sunbather, as this 8 1/2-foot-tall deformity is called, depicts a reclining figure propped up on one elbow with one leg slightly bent. It must have stayed out on the beach for too long (or, barring that, suffered radiation burns) because it’s colored an eye-watering shade of pink.

The form itself appears as if had slapped together out of wads of plastic-y goo, leading some to compare it to Gumby, but that’s being too generous. It actually looks like what would happen if you pooped Pepto-Bismol straight from the bottle.

Rendering of Sunbather

Expected to cost $515,000, Sunbather is sponsored by New York’s Percent for Art initiative, so named for a 1982 law that budgets one percent of city construction projects for public art. When the design was unveiled in 2014 to the local community board, they understandably freaked out. In response, city Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer got legislation passed to toughen the review process to require greater community input for future commissions.

As for Meromi himself, he told The New York Times last year that the criticism, “doesn’t feel great.” No doubt, though he might have said to himself, “Maybe I should rethink this.” Instead, work on Sunbather is proceeding apace. Last week, the foundation for it was poured on its designated site at Jackson Avenue and 43rd Avenue, which is about eight blocks from MoMA PS1. Moreover, since the sculpture is permanent, it can never be given the pink slip.


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