Tuesday, January 25, 2011

'The Roses' on Park Avenue

Will Ryman's The Roses. January 25 - May 31, 2011 on Park Avenue.
Will Ryman’s whacky winter roses along Park Avenue
by Susan Sawyers

Spotting 25-foot-tall roses blooming along the Park Avenue median on this freezing January day seemed improbable, but Bowery-based playwright turned sculptor Will Ryman pulled an all-nighter and brought the posies to life this past weekend.

The new installation — think Alice in Wonderland meets a preppy Doctor Seuss — comprises monumental ruby red and Pepto-Bismol pink colored roses on green stems, some as tall as 25 feet, ants, aphids, and a smart-car sized bumble bee, are all on view along the Avenue, between 57 and 67th Streets through May 31st.
Painter touches up with epoxy.
The whimsical display is Ryman’s first outdoor installation and was “the biggest challenge of my life.” The 41-year-old artist, son of Realist painter Robert Ryman, had proposed his idea via email to New York City Parks and Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe “a year and some change ago.” After a 20-minute meeting with the Commissioner in August 2009, the artist got the go-ahead two months later as long as he “took care of everything” - from funding to fruition. And so, he did. “I wanted to do something site specific. I thought roses would work on Park Avenue because of the floral displays it is known for.”

To get the flowers “planted” properly, Ryman and his team were outside breaking away four inches of ice and digging holes beginning last Wednesday. By late Friday, with the help of a crane, the five guys were placing and pruning their bugs and roses in temperatures that hovered in the mid-teens.
Have a seat in a petal.
“The rose symbolizes romance, celebration, even death and commercialism,” said Ryman. “I wanted to show how the meaning can change. The scale is part of it as well. When you make them 25 feet tall and out of steel, you have people looking down [on the roses] from their apartments or up from the street and again, the meaning changes,” he said.

Inspiration came from Ryman’s interest in absurdist playwrights like Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus but ultimately, he was influenced by the opening scene of David Lynch’s 1986 film “Blue Velvet.” On the surface, “there’s this beauty, an all-American house, a white picket fence and a perfect garden,” he explained, adding, “But the camera pans underground and what lies beneath the beautiful landscape is a dark underworld.”
Although there may be a subtle, perhaps even sinister tone masked by something that represents beauty, “It’s impossible not to walk by [the Roses] without smiling,” said Barbara McLaughlin, executive director of the Fund for Park Avenue who together with the Paul Kasmin Gallery and the Public Art Program of the city’s Department of Parks & Recreation made the exhibition possible.

Through community support, in addition to the ongoing sculpture exhibitions, the Fund for Park Avenue plants, lights and maintains the trees and flowers on the Park Avenue Malls. “The Roses cheer up what is usually a dreary time of year,” said McLaughlin.
And the sculptor is happy too – although still thawing from a few frozen days of installation. When we spoke mid-morning on Saturday, Mr. Ryman had been outside in 14-degree weather since 8pm the night before. He skipped an al fresco dinner of turkey and BLT sandwiches delivered by his assistant, Ashley, and instead climbed into his dark blue pickup truck for a brief warm up at 4:00am. For breakfast, he nibbled on a few blueberries and strawberries from the previous night. “We came prepared,” he said, dressed in a wool hat plus hoody, boots, snow pants, a warm winter coat and a florescent yellow flak jacket with orange tape that set him apart from his four-man crew.

By 3pm Saturday, the flowers and loose petals were set into holes and bolted into steel atop blocks of concrete that anchored them into the ground. A City-Scape Landscaping crew filled in dirt and Ryman and his guys wandered from rose to rose, stem to stem, thorn to thorn, holding a cardboard drink tray and plastic cups of Sherwin Williams epoxy paint, to review and touch up smudges.
About half of the works on view have already been sold. The proceeds from these sales made the installation a reality because the $800,000 in expenses were covered by the artist. Whatever isn’t sold by the time they come down in late May will probably be put on loan by the Paul Kasmin Gallery, said Ryman. Prices range from $200,000 to $400,000 depending on the size of the sculpture. Individual petals, which double as chairs (really), are going for between $25,000 and $30,000.
With the Park Avenue Armory as a backdrop and the Winter Antiques Show as a draw this week, many New Yorkers and a number of out-of-towners should have the chance to stop and smell the roses fresh paint. The octet of blossoms and individual petals are made of plaster, wire mesh, PVC tubes, stainless steel, yacht-grade fiberglass resin, automotive paint, and brass designed to withstand the elements and be enjoyed by passersby.

“By the way,” said Ryman, “you should sit on the chairs. On a rose petal.”
Park Avenue Armory as backdrop.

Click here
for NYSD contents.