Required Viewing: Spencer Finch’s High Line Installation

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Spencer Finch, The River That Flows Both Ways, rendering, 2007

Brooklyn-based artist Spencer Finch is a man in search of lost time. Take, for example, his installation West (Sunset in My Motel Room, Monument Valley, January 26, 2007, 5:36-6:06 PM): 9 TVs face a wall, playing films whose composite, haloed reflection reproduces the colors of a sixty-minute sunset viewed from Finch’s hotel room in Monument Valley. Or there’s 2 hours, 2 minutes, 2 seconds (Wind at Walden Pond, March 12, 2007), in which 44 fans recreate the gusts and ebbs of wind over at the eponymous pond on March 12 of the same year.

Finch, in short, feeds viewers a Proustian Madeleine for their senses, attempting to evoke a far-off place and time. There’s a touch of piquant humor in these works: taken together, they feel a little like a travelogue crossed with a science experiment — a mechanical attempt to mimic the natural phenomenon that make up a memory. But their cleverness is quieted by their lambent beauty, and by their ability to work upon your senses.

Finch’s installations will fire a series of familiar associations for the art-versed viewer. They meld landscape painting’s depiction of natural vistas with abstraction’s distillation of shapes and colors. They mix impressionism’s interest in the fleeting perception with pointillism’s scientific analysis of seeing. In other words, they recall arts past and well as moments passed, paying playful homage to Finch’s influences.

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West (Sunset in My Motel Room, Monument Valley, January 26, 2007, 5:36-6:06 PM)

You can see all these elements on display in Finch’s most recent project The River that Flows Both Ways, now on view on New York’s High Line. Consisting of 700 panes of glass and commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line, and the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, this new work is actually the narrative of 700 minutes on the Hudson River, each pane matching the color of the water during a single minute of a day-long boat ride.

It’s ambitious in concept but pleasingly modest in appearance. The panes filter the outside light; and combined with the high, dark roof of the former biscuit factory overhead, they create the murk of actually being underwater, as if you have been submerged from the sun-struck High Line into its dank river parallel. That’s not to say it isn’t an exalted piece; the windows look like the stained-glass or mosaics of a cathedral, and one marvels at the gorgeous flux of colors produced by what, to most New Yorkers, generally seems nothing more than a lurking health hazard looping its serpent tail around Manhattan.

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2 hours, 2 minutes, 2 seconds (Wind at Walden Pond, March 12, 2007)

In some ways, Finch’s installation feels divorced from the rest of the High Line – it’s a blue oasis from the alternating billboards, broken chimneys, and tufted grasses that line the promenade. But, to this viewer at least, it felt thematically fluent: like a flipbook of the Hudson as seen from the windows of a train, the rhythm of bricks and blue making a flowing complement to the dynamism of the rest of the park. The installation is set to be in place until at least 2010, so you’ll have plenty of chances for the past to be recaptured, and time on the river to be regained.

Spencer Finch’s installation is accessible from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily using the High Line entrance on Gansevoort and Washington Streets. Admission is free, but the park allows only 1,700 visitors up at a time.

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