A new artwork in NorthPark Center has people stopping to look, trying to figure out what they’re seeing. The mall is known for the major art collection the owners, the Nasher family, display there. But KERA’s Jerome Weeks reports, this new artwork is a bit different.
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A little marketing tip. You want to draw a crowd? Generate a little public interest? Have some people stand and stare at something. It could be in a store window, it could be overhead. But it has to be something other people walking past can’t see – until they themselves go up and get a good look.
“When I was walking up, I was just wondering, ‘What is everyone looking at?’,” says Leticia, who asked her last name not be used. “And if I didn’t see others looking at it, I probably wouldn’t have walked under it. I would have just thought, ‘Oh, OK, something interesting.’ But it’s really cool.”
Leticia is from Dallas. She was shopping recently at NorthPark Center when she spotted a small crowd peering up at three water towers. They’re brand-new – big, wooden barrels up on metal legs. They’re like the ones you see in old movie Westerns, the tanks that provide water for a steam train. And you can still see them on top of older buildings in cities like New York.
But walk under these at NorthPark, look up, and it’s a different world.
“I see kind of an infinity. It’s really amazing how he was able to create that kind of infinite image,” says Rodney Britton, who works at NorthPark’s Apple store. He’s looking at a common optical illusion. It’s what you get with a two-way mirror and a regular mirror facing each other. They reflect and repeat an image over and over, and because we can look through the two-way mirror, we can see the resulting infinite regression.
You can buy coffee tables and shaving mirrors with this same effect built in. But rarely is it seen on this scale. And rarely with such a contrast between the outside – these squat barrels with their pointed tin roofs – and the inside – with neon images that stretch upward forever, as if they’re disappearing into the night sky.
The three towers are an installation called This Land Is Your Land. Its creator is Ivan Navarro, a Chilean artist who lives in Brooklyn. Navarro says the work was inspired by the Woody Guthrie song about wandering America, discovering its natural beauties.
“It goes with the history of folk music and the first inspiration of Woody Guthrie, which is hobo music,” Navarro says. “And I’ve been working in general with this idea of homelessness and the idea of not having a fixed place to live or to work.”
That’s why the neon inside the different towers spell out the words “bed” or “we” and “me.” Navarro says the light ascending upwards suggests hope, potentiality or spirituality. And why the choice of water towers? They are an icon of New York, of the immigrant experience there, but he also says when riding the rails, hobos would spot a water tower ahead and know their train was approaching a town – with the possibility of work. Or just food.
WhenNavarro’s asked if he has had any of his work displayed in a shopping mall, he laughs. “No,” he says, “which is a very interesting situation.”
It’s interesting because Navarro (below) dislikes many New York art museums. They’re expensive to enter, they’re cut off from the regular life of the city. He’s dismissed them as bunkers or just – ritzy shopping malls. Then he flew to Dallas to see where his artwork might be installed.
This Land Is Your Land was originally built for Madison Square Park on the lower East Side in New York. For years, the park conservancy has commissioned new artworks, regularly introducing them into the park, keeping its visual appeal fresh. Nancy Nasher, the owner of NorthPark, has been keeping tabs on the program. She says, both Madison Square Park and NorthPark are committed to bringing sculpture to the public. A key difference, though, is the Madison Square artworks are up usually for only five weeks. Then, most go into storage.
Artist Ivan Navarro
So Nasher thought, “Some of these pieces maybe we could bring down here to help the artist. And it makes the art at NorthPark very dynamic. So maybe it’ll find a permanent home,” she adds about This Land is Your Land. She points to how so many shoppers on the concourse — “even the little ones” — stop to check it out. “It’s fantastic.”
This Land is Your Land is the first solo artist’s installation, ever, at NorthPark. It’s currently scheduled to remain there for a year.
Article was written with the assistance of Caydee Ensey, who also provided the photos outfront. All other photos by Jerome Weeks.