John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Without context, this is one heckuva scary photo.
Without context, that is one heckuva scary photo. It would appear this smiling group of friends is milliseconds away from fiery oblivion as a free-falling airplane explodes right behind them.
That's not the intent of the artist who erected this piece last week in Central Park, however. The six-seated Piper Seneca, which has been modified so that it slowly somersaults on its wingtips, celebrates artist Paola Pivi's "fascination with industrial machines that are also capable of unexpected transformation into captivating, artistic objects," according to the organization backing the sculpture, the Public Art Fund. (It also unwittingly celebrates the feeling of nausea for anyone who's been in bad turbulence.)
New Yorkers strolling past the corner of 60th Street and Fifth Avenue can now witness this odd aeronautic spectacle until August 26, when it comes down and perhaps rejoins it squadron. Seemingly locked in a perpetual tumble, the artwork breathes out menace while simultaneously sucking in pedestrians with its surreal placement. This is a metro region, after all, that doesn't have a great recent history with private planes.
Public Art Fund director Nicholas Baume has said the piece, titled "How I Roll," reminds him of a "famous anecdote about the birth of modernism":
“Constantin Brancusi, Marcel Duchamp, and Fernand Léger are said to have visited the 1912 Paris Air Show together. Upon observing a propeller, Brancusi exclaimed, ‘Now that is what I call sculpture!’. Paola’s work suggests that this love affair between modernist artists and industrial design is still able to generate remarkable visual poetry.”
The Anchorage-based Pivi is seemingly obsessed with turning large vehicles upside down or on their sides, like a toddler playing god with Matchbox cars. In 1997, she tipped over a semi truck in the name of art. Two years later it was a military fighter that wound up on its back at the Venice Biennale. More recently, in 2006 she balanced a helicopter on its rotors in a public square in Austria, an interesting process you can read about here.
The lesson: Unless you have an ironclad insurance policy, don't ever let Paola Pivi fly or drive your vehicle.
Photos courtesy of the Public Art Fund's Facebook page.