I am in love with the sculptures on Park Avenue in New York…they are positioned in those grassy dividers (or mini “parks”) that define the center of that avenue which runs north on the east side and south on the west side of Park Avenue. Unlike the other avenues which only run directionally and alternatively either south or north, this affords those grassy areas to be festooned with everything from colorful tulips in the spring, Christmas decorations in the early winter to frequent large sculptures which provide artistic diversion to midtown taxi riders and horn-heavy drivers. One such featured artist is Niki de Saint Phalle, a woman who cites empowerment, diversion and humor as the undercurrents of her work. The installation is in honor of the tenth anniversary of her death and runs from East 52nd to 60th Street on Park Avenue. Her whimsical work has me constantly distracted and entertained as I ride my bike to and fro through the neighborhood surrounding my apartment. The sculptures are crafted from polyester resin in colors which are bright and communicate high spirits. My favorite is the Three Graces -“Les Trois Graces Fontaine” – completed in 1999 with her women flaunting generously sized figures, thighs and bosoms that remind me of Botero if Botero had had a gift for “fanciful gigantism” using intense mosaics done in color and vivid pattern. These poly ceramic, stained, mirrored glass figures in pop art bathing suits, camping it up and livin’ large, exude joyfulness to the max. These curvy creations celebrate female archetypes and imagery with the artist’s signature Nana (French slang for “broad” or “chick”) making nearby office buildings the perfect dreary backdrop to display them against. I loved that she financed her own work by funds derived from her self-named perfume! One’s business supporting one’s artistic endeavors — now that’s empowerment.
For New Yorkers right now, the installations are in tune with our temper and taste: Women, sports figures, people of color. The Three Graces can be seen on 53rd and Park (right up from my apartment) but if you’re on Park Avenue at 59th Street North, check out Louis Armstrong (polyurethane foam, resin and steel) and Miles Davis at 58th Street North (similar materials), both from Saint Phalle’s Black Heroes series, as well as an homage to Michael Jordan and “Baseball Player.” All nine sculptures by Saint Phalle are on view on Park Avenue from East 52nd to 60th Street, July 12-Nov. 15.