Your Summer Plans: New York’s High Line Opens to Fanfare

Unless you are living under a rock with no Wi-Fi, you may have heard about the long awaited opening of the Chelsea High Line, an elevated park refurbished from an abandoned rail trestle snaking up the lower West Side of Manhattan. Winding from an entrance on Gansevoort and Washington Streets, under the new Standard hotel, over Tenth Avenue, and past some of Chelsea’s most creative architecture, the High Line is a public space worth its weight in hype.  On Monday we investigated the 1.5 miles of open parkway, designed by landscape architects James Corner Field Operations with assistance from Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Highlights included an art installation by Spencer Finch, commissioned by New York non-profit Creative Time; a City Bakery snack stand, and a chat with a few of the new High Line custodians.

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As New York Magazine reported last week, the City Parks Department plans to restrict entry to 1700 visitors at a time, creating an estimated 72 square feet of personal space per guest. (Better odds than Central Park’s Sheep Meadow, that’s for sure.) The High Line is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, and as one custodian put it, you can eat “breakfast, lunch, and dinner here… then go for a swim!” OK, maybe not. According to another new hire, who was introduced to the Friends of the High Line by non-profit union Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW), over 500 applicants angled for the six custodial and eight gardener positions.

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Spencer Finch’s installation, titled The River That Flows Both Ways after the Native American name for the Hudson River, transforms an existing series of windows with 700 handcrafted panes of glass. The color variations are transferred chronologically from a set of photographs taken of the river by the artist from the railing of a tugboat. We spoke with Anne Pasternak, president and artistic director of Creative Time, to get more details on the organization’s involvement with the High Line.

Flavorpill: The Field Ops and DSR plan incorporates many design elements that reference the old train tracks (slatted concrete planters, benches on casters, iron railings). The industrial look of Spencer Finch’s piece fits in so well with the aesthetic as a whole; how much direction did Creative Time give him in commissioning the piece?

Anne Pasternak: Creative Time is a unique organization because we are 100% committed to artists’ processes. Spencer’s project is a reaction to site in a similar way to the architectural plan…. Spencer himself chose to use the original mullions extant in the loading dock where his project is installed. The Friends of the High Line are an incredible organization that trusted Spencer and DSR’s instincts to preserve some of the historic features of that beautiful site.

FP: Is Finch’s piece a permanent part of the new High Line? If not, when is it coming down and what other artwork is Creative Time planning for the area?

AP: Spencer’s project will be on view until at least 2010. It was made possible by major funding from Rockefeller Foundation’s NYC Cultural Innovation Fund, which also included funding for a second project. We are currently planning that commission.

FP: There’s been quite a bit of press on the Bloomberg administration’s focus on public design and art, especially with Patricia Harris at the helm. How closely does Creative Time work with the city? Any exciting upcoming projects you can share?

AP: We are so thankful to have an administration that is committed to contemporary art in this city, especially in troubled economic times. Our public projects could never happen without the support of Mayor Bloomberg and his whole team, including Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Commissioner of the Planning Department Amanda Burden, Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate D. Levin, and the rest of the administration. Our next major project in New York is PLOT09: This World & Nearer Ones, a major group show on Governors Island opening June 27 with 19 international artists, free and open to the public all summer long.

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Entrance from Gansevoort Street (l), gardens planted around old railroad ties (r).

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An auditorium overlooks Tenth Avenue (l), visitors chill out in the High Line’s water feature (r).

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Rolling benches angled westward to capitalize on Hudson River views (l), Spencer Finch installation (r).

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Underpass to The Standard (l), no escape from advertising (r).

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Don’t be sad, New Yorkers, there’s plenty of nature up there.

For more coverage of the High Line opening, we’d recommend:

Renovated High Line Now Open for Strolling [New York Times]
Elevated: A Tour of the Lively Architecture Surrounding the High Line [NYMag]
Story of Reusing the City: Welcome to the High Line [Huffington Post]
New York’s High Line Park in the Sky Opens Today! [Inhabitat]