Oct. 23, 2015 By Jackie Strawbridge
The $515,000 pink sculpture planned for Jackson Avenue that sparked considerable debate last year is likely to be approved next week.
The sculpture, called “Sunbather,” will go before the Public Design Commission for final design approval on Monday morning. If approved, the sculpture will be built at the intersection of 43rd/Jackson Ave. before the end of next year, according to the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA).
Public notification of Monday’s meeting has been minimal. The chairperson of Community Board 2’s Land Use Committee was unaware of it, and it was posted once in the City Record on Thursday. It is listed online in the PDC calendar.
The “Sunbather” has been making headlines since last year, after Community Board 2 was caught off guard when the project was presented to them at a Land Use committee meeting.
Board members said they were blindsided by the project and were upset that they had no input in the commissioning process, although a manager had attended an early panel meeting.
At the time, the DCLA declined to make design renderings publicly available, citing the committee presentation as sufficient.
At the request of the Land Use committee, DCLA additionally presented the project to the full community board in December.
Several members expressed concern over the sculpture’s size – 8 ½ feet – and its bright pink color at that meeting. They were told that the size and shade of the piece could change, and that the design is continually evolving.
However, the agency will not release up-to-date information to show the public where designs stand ahead of approval.
When asked for current design renderings, the DCLA sent the LIC Post the black-and-white image (below) that was originally presented to the Community Board, which is now almost a year old.
As they did last November, the DCLA said that updated renderings will only be released once the design is approved (after Monday’s meeting). When asked why, a spokesperson deferred to the PDC, which did not respond to inquiries as of press time.
The DCLA says it has exceeded required outreach for this project, and that the work has not significantly changed since the Conceptual Design phase – the last dedicated opportunity for public input – which ended in January.
The PDC requires advance notice from any resident wishing to testify on the artwork at Monday’s meeting, despite minimal public notice of the meeting.
Per the agenda, those wishing to testify “should contact the Design Commission immediately, so the project can be rescheduled for a formal presentation at the next appropriate public hearing, per standard procedure.”
CB 2 Land Use Chair Lisa Deller was taken aback by news of the meeting when called on Thursday.
“I am surprised,” she said, noting that she had been consistently in touch with Percent For Art – the city program that commissioned “Sunbather – and was planning a visit to the artist’s studio.
“I guess that’s the major disconnect, is that we were working with the Percent For Art program and they didn’t notify the board [of the meeting],” she said.
Deller added that she does not feel that she has enough information about the design ahead of its potential PDC approval. Regarding the fact that there is no public testimony, she said, “the Percent For Art approval process has not been very participatory.”
“Nothing has changed, so it’s really a top-down process. Could it be different in the future? We would hope,” she added.
Following controversy over “Sunbather” last winter, DCLA Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl hosted a “Cultural Town Hall” with Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer to discuss, among other topics, the sculpture and Van Bramer’s transparency legislation for Percent For Art.
This law was signed in June, and mandates online posting of all incoming projects, as well as an additional public meeting before artist selection.
“While the public comment period for ‘The Sunbather’ did yield a significant reaction from our community and over 200 people who came to our highly publicized Cultural Town Hall in March, the majority of the public supported the artist Ohad Meromi and his work,” Van Bramer said in a statement when asked for comment on this story.
“I look forward to hearing what the Public Design Commission recommends this Monday as we continue our progress in strengthening the Percent for Art program for all New Yorkers.”