Whitney pitches Gansevoort Peninsula installation

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Proposed sculpture evokes waterfront’s past


  • A rendering of the proposed project “Day’s End” by David Hammons. Image: Guy Nordenson and Associates

  • The Whitney Museum and Gansevoort Peninsula, the proposed site of the sculpture, as seen from the south. Photo: Michael Garofalo

  • David Hammons borrows the title of “Day’s End” from a 1975 piece by the same name by the artist Gordon Matta-Clark, who famously cut holes in the pier shed that formerly stood on the site. Photo: Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark, Artists Rights Society (ARS), N.Y.

  • A rendering of the proposed project “Day’s End” by David Hammons. Image: Guy Nordenson and Associates

The area now known as Gansevoort Peninsula, a strip of land that juts into the Hudson River near 13th Street, has been a location of significance on the Manhattan waterfront for about as long as humans have inhabited the island. Lenape settled the area and harvested oysters and lobsters from the estuary’s rich waters. Later, Fort Gansevoort was built at the site to defend the Hudson during the War of 1812.

Bustling piers serviced the produce markets and meatpacking plants lining the neighborhood’s Belgian block streets during the commercial booms of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but by the 1970s post-industrial decay had taken hold. Artists in search of cheap studio space moved into the neighborhood, and the piers, then largely abandoned, emerged as gathering places for the local gay community. The Meatpacking District as it is today, with its droves of tourists flocking to trendy boutiques and hotels, anchored by the High Line and the new home of the Whitney Museum of American Art, was scarcely imaginable.

The waterfront’s bygone days are invoked in the conceptual and literal framework of “Day’s End,” a major public artwork by the artist David Hammons that the Whitney hopes to build on the banks of the Hudson. Hammons’ proposed sculpture, formally unveiled October 4, is an ethereal representation of the past that Adam Weinberg, the museum’s director, described as “a kind of ghost monument.”

Plans for “Day’s End,” a spare steel structure that would stand mostly over the water on the southern side of the Gansevoort Peninsula, opposite the museum, were presented to the public for the first time at a meeting of Community Board 2’s Park and Waterfront Committee hosted by the museum.

Hammons draws the title of the proposed piece from a 1975 work of the same name by the artist Gordon Matta-Clark. For his “Day’s End,” Matta-Clark cut large holes in the derelict pier shed that then stood on the site, letting in sunlight and reflections from the river outside to create what he called a “sun and water temple.”

Hammons’ “Day’s End” would stand on the exact site of the since-demolished pier shed, and recreate the building’s exact dimensions in an outline formed of brushed steel beams eight inches in diameter. The sculpture would not be lit, and renderings shared at the meeting showed how the frame would seem to disappear in fog and twilight. At 373 feet long and 50 feet tall, but built with thin material to convey a light, almost hovering quality, “Day’s End” as Weinberg described it would be a representation of the site’s past at once monumental and evanescent.

“The idea is that it is a ghost-representation of the pier shed that was originally there, so that what you’re looking at is an evocation not just of Gordon Matta-Clark’s ‘Day’s End,’ but an evocation of the previous pier sheds and also of all the history of the waterfront,” Weinberg said.

Hammons conceptualized the piece and presented it to the museum after touring the new Whitney building on Gansevoort Street soon after it was completed in 2015, Weinberg explained. Hammons, 74, an African-American artist whose works have explored race and impermanence, is based in New York City and has a reputation for closely guarding his privacy and independence. His works are represented in the collections of the Whitney, the Museum of Modern Art and the Tate, among other notable museums, but Hammons, who rarely speaks to the press and was not present at the community board meeting, has often turned down proposals to stage exhibitions of his work.

“David is truly one of the greatest living American artists,” Weinberg said.

Gansevoort Peninsula, the former site of a city Sanitation Department facility, is slated to soon be converted to a public park by the Hudson River Park Trust, which operates a four-mile stretch of public space along the West Side waterfront. The trust would own “Day’s End,” which would be funded and maintained by the Whitney through contributions from private donors. Weinberg said that the final price of the sculpture is unclear, and declined to provide an estimate beyond stating that it would cost “millions of dollars.”

“Day’s End” would stand on 12 concrete piles, several of which would be anchored to the southern edge of the peninsula, which will be bordered by a “rocky shoreline beach,” according to the trust’s plans. The remaining piles would stand in the water. Weinberg said that access to the water would be preserved and assembly of “Day’s End” would not require the pouring of any concrete to set the piles. Construction of the sculpture, much of which would be prefabricated off-site, would take approximately eight to 10 months.

“It would not impinge on any uses of the Gansevoort Peninsula,” Weinberg said.

The Whitney’s announcement came less than a month after the dissolution of an unrelated, but similarly high-profile waterfront project nearby backed by the media executive Barry Diller. The proposal, which called for the construction of a $250 million pier-borne performance venue just north of Gansevoort Peninsula — “Diller Island,” as the project came to be known — was withdrawn in September in the face of legal challenges centering on the pier’s environmental impact.

Whitney officials had intended to present “Day’s End” to the public for the first time at the community board meeting, but some details about the plan, including Hammons’ involvement, leaked to the New York Times in the wake of the Diller project’s demise. Weinberg emphasized the Whitney’s desire to engage with the public, but downplayed any relationship between Diller Island and the Whitney’s proposal, saying the projects “came about completely separately in completely different ways.”

“For me what’s important is not so much what they did or didn’t do, but how I feel very strongly that it has to be something that’s connected to the community, that’s environmentally sound, and that really connects to this history,” he said.

The museum’s proposal was met with a largely positive reception at the community board meeting. Several attendees who spoke at the meeting praised the design and its connection to local history. Vincent Inconiglios, an artist who has lived on Gansevoort Street since 1969, called the work “a resurrection” of the bygone waterfront that presents educational opportunities to engage with the past. “I think that the spiritual quality is fantastic,” he said.

One woman, who described herself as a longtime resident of Jane Street, expressed concern about the submerged pilings contributing to the accumulation of debris in the water along the south side of the peninsula. Madelyn Wils, the president and CEO of the Hudson River Park Trust, said that an environmental assessment will be completed before any work on the project proceeds and that steps will be taken to minimize debris collection whether the sculpture is built or not.

Another resident asked whether the sculpture would interfere with the natural gas pipeline that runs underground near the site. Whitney officials said that it would not.

In conjunction with “Day’s End”, the Whitney plans to present a range of programming focused on the history of the Hudson River waterfront, including tours, publications, a documentary film, and oral histories constructed from interviews with local residents.

“This piece is about not just what is here, but what is gone,” Weinberg said. “This is, in a sense, a monument for all the things we lose on the waterfront — for loss, erasure. It’s not about doing something that’s modern, contemporary, edgy. It’s about talking about history that was, and also, in the sense of its openness, what can be.”

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