Originally written for the Solo Foundation. ◊◊
By some confluence of chance and irony, and something other than coincidence, Kiki Smith was asked earlier this year to produce a temporary installation in Times Square as part of the Last Lot project spaceâ€”roughly five blocks from the 1980 staging of â€œThe Times Square Showâ€ by Colab, an aggressively experimental artist group of which Smith was an active member.
Times Square today is no longer what Jeffrey Deitch called â€œNew Yorkâ€™s behavioral sink, the place where people go to do all the things that they canâ€™t do at home,â€ in his review of the â€œThe Times Square Show.â€Â Todayâ€™s Times Square is perhaps still a behavioral sink, but one with a steady international eye trained upon its few square blocks, and is certainly not a place without a code of manners determined by external (touristic, perhaps) forces. It has ceased to have a specificity that ties it to a local New York-ness, and certainly ceased to allow unsanctioned avant-garde actions (in this past month, the ever-present police shot and killed a man in the vicinity, who menacingly wielded an 11-inch knife and refused to back downâ€”an unfortunate tale, but one that demonstrates the rarity of organic unusualness).
The Last Lot project is a child of the Times Square Allianceâ€™s public art program that, in its own words, â€œworks to bring cutting-edge art to Times Squareâ€ via commissions made possible by large and generous donors (a list which includes UBS and the like).Â Â Though it may not be certain that this banner has the self-awareness of the 25 years priorâ€”a mark of success of the eradicating of urban and social unsavoriness under our two most recent mayorsâ€”it functions brilliantly as a litmus of the changing regard of art in Times Square and perhaps New York at large.
Smithâ€™s installation, â€œChorus,â€ features a constellation of stained-glass stars stood upright in an empty lot on the corner of 46th Street and 8th Avenue, amidst which stands a glittering Josephine Baker. Baker has equal fame for her Prohibition-era performances as her support of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1920s, and her muse-like effect on the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Pablo Picasso. The choice of subject, a nationally and historically relevant figure, might reveal a certain desire to accommodate a more general accessibility, which speaks more about the audience in the area than it does the maker.
Smith, on her part, is self-possessed and self-aware, having once said in a New York Times interview that â€œThe history of Times Square has been erased and made boring.â€Â Â Where does this piece fit in Times Squareâ€™s place and history? Smith responded to the Huffington Post:
â€œWho owns Times Square now is radically different from who owned it 20 or 30 years ago. [â€¦] But you still have all the spectacle of lights and the history of lights.â€Â