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100 wooden school desks are sitting in Madison Square Park

The work "Brier Patch" by artist Hugh Hayden is an installation on view through April.

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver

If you pass by Madison Square Park you'll notice about 100 wooden elementary school-style desks sprouting tree branches—a somewhat eerie scene.

It's part of Artist Hugh Hayden's new installation called "Brier Patch" and is spread out over four lawns in the park. On view through April 24, the commission hopes to bring to mind the disparities within the education system and the idea of the American Dream while also calling on folklore with tangled branches emerging from the desks.

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The largest group of desks (48 of them) is arranged in a grid on the Oval Lawn while another smaller grid sits on Sparrow Lawn across from the playground in the Northeast corner of the park. Two desks sit on Elm Lawn. Finally, another group can be found on the Veteran’s Lawn without branches, allowing for the public to interact with the installation and sit in the desks.

According to the Madison Square Park Conservancy, the grid of desks reminds viewers of the typical classroom setting or even darkly, the tombstones in a military cemetery. 

"In Hayden’s installation, each desk, like a tombstone, can be seen as a stand-in for an individual," the Conservancy explains. The wild branches disrupt the formation helping to signify intellectual development and how some excel and others get left behind...where only a few can truly thrive. It also alludes to student loan debt taken on by getting a higher education. 

Brier Patch Madison Square Garden
Photograph: Yasunori Matsui, courtesy the artist and Madison Square Park Conservancy

"In Hugh Hayden’s project, the overgrown configuration of branches overwhelms and encumbers the placidity of seats of childhood learning," said Brooke Kamin Rapaport, the deputy director and Martin Friedman Chief Curator of Madison Square Park Conservancy. "Hayden imbues each of his works with intense meaning that, when peeled back, reveals lived experiences about rooted systems in our country and the world. He transforms everyday objects into new forms that expose the properties and purpose of the original source. Brier Patch is both visually powerful and loaded with inherent tensions-growth and stagnation, seduction and peril, individual and community-that ask us to consider how these dichotomies coexist in engrained systems and the work on view." 

The twisted branches and the name "Brier Patch" are meant to evoke an environment that is difficult to inhabit as well as the brier patch tales found in folklore traditions around the world, including Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus" stories, which are now condemned for their fictitious depictions of Southern plantation life.

"Brier Patch" is open now at Madison Square Park through April 24.

Brier Patch Madison Square Garden
Photograph: Rashmi Gill, courtesy the artist and Madison Square Park Conservancy

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