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Photograph: Courtesy CC/WikiCommons/MusikAnimal

The creepiest work of public art ever

Written by
Howard Halle

Over the years, public art has increasingly become a thing in the city, with pieces cropping up everywhere. Some are temporary and some are permanent, but they’re all designed to do one or more of the following: Serve as landmarks or commemorations (of both people and events); engage pedestrians in an artistic experience (assuming they’re open to it); serve as tourist attractions; increase the property values of whatever building or buildings are nearby (for luxury apartment developers, art has become one of amenities offered to potential buyers).

Public artworks are often meant to be weird or controversial or how else would they stand out from the visual clutter that is New York? But there are cases in which a project is unintentional weird, ugly or just down right creepy. Metronome, a permanently installed piece on a building overlooking Union Square, is a prime example. Created by the artist duo Kristin Jones and Andrew Ginzel, the piece has been around since 1999; it is an artistic carbuncle on the face of downtown.

Supposedly dedicated to keeping time—and what that means, you know, philosophically—Metronome consists of two prime components. One is a large digital clock displaying hours, minutes, seconds and percentages thereof in military time (which is certainly innocuous enough, if lacking in imagination). The other component is a huge sculptural relief,”a brick wall built in concentric circles, creating a wave pattern like ripples on still water after a stone is cast into it,” according to Wikipedia. It also looks and functions like an asshole.

There’s a large aperture in the middle of the top half of the piece surrounded by gold leaf, and twice a day—at noon and midnight—it blasts out a huge plume of steam, accompanied by an explosive sound. Just what that suggests doesn’t really need to be spelled out, does it?

Speaking of time, Jones and Ginzel's flatulent creation hasn’t aged well over 17 years, seeming as out of style now as the Y2K panic at the turn of the millennium. It isn't likely to fair much better as the years go by, but given that this is New York we’re talking about, preservationists will undoubtedly clamor to save Metronome if the building it’s on ever gets torn down.

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