I read in the New Yorker (well, on the New Yorker’s Goings On About Town app) that Giuseppe Penone had installed three life-size and lifelike bronze trees in Madison Square Park and balanced some boulders up in them.
The most understated and ecologically minded artist of the Italian Arte Povera movement has planted a trio of bronze trees, the largest of which weighs twelve thousand pounds. Boulders, placed in the crooks of their branches, appear to defy gravity. The trees were cast in pieces and reassembled on location; the results look at once vital and petrified. It’s not apt to call the Italian sculptor’s work site-specific—Penone’s uncanny arbor could be installed anywhere—but in the heart of Manhattan, the transformation of nature into culture has a particular bite. Through Feb. 9.
This I had to see, and so I did. The bronze trees are – or at least appear to be from the fence that protects them from us or vice versa – amazingly life-like and not immediately distinguishable from their wooden neighbors until you notice the boulders and if you look for them, the seams where sections are welded together. But I have to disagree with the writer at The New Yorker about the site specificity – sure, they could be anywhere, but they are special here.
The media photos for this work carefully ignore Madison Square Park’s most famous architectural neighbor, the Flatiron Building. Some of the photos show the Empire State Building, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but once you put the Flatiron into the picture with Penone’s trees, I think you’ve got no choice but to call to mind Alfred Stieglitz’s (or if you insist, Edward Steichen’s) iconic photo of that building through a tree.
As I had some years earlier, I tried to find a composition similar to Stieglitz’s but this time using one of Penone’s trees. Instagram doesn’t have a setting for Camerawork Gravure, but it adds a little fake nostalgia. Yes, I know it’s not really at all similar.
I suggest you get there if you can, the installation will somehow be removed February 9. If you witness that, please share photos.