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Photo by Timothy Schenck

Various Artists

Shortlisted Proposals for the First and Second Plinth Commissions

February 2017 – April 2017

On the High Line at 14th St.

The High Line Plinth is a new landmark destination for major public art commissions in New York City located on the High Line at West 30th Street and 10th Avenue. Designed as the focal point of the Spur, the newest section of the High Line, the High Line Plinth will designate the first space on the High Line dedicated specifically to art, featuring a rotating program of new commissions. The High Line Plinth is inspired by the Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square, a widely respected, high-profile venue for a changing program of temporary commissioned artworks, whose influence reaches far beyond the art world and inspires dialogue amongst the general public.

After collecting and reviewing more than 50 proposals from a wide range of artists recommended by an international advisory committee, High Line Art has selected 12 shortlisted proposals by artists Jonathan Berger, Minerva Cuevas, Jeremy Deller, Sam Durant, Charles Gaines, Lena Henke, Matthew Day Jackson, Simone Leigh, Roman Ondak, Paola Pivi, Haim Steinbach, and Cosima von Bonin. Hailing from Mexico City, Slovakia, Kenya, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Israel, and from all corners of the United States, the artists also vary greatly in age – ranging from 32 to 72 years of age. Additionally, the artists differ in the stages at which they find themselves in their careers—from emerging, such as Minerva Cuevas, Lena Henke, and Jonathan Berger; mid-career, like Matthew Day Jackson and Cosima von Bonin; and established, such as Haim Steinbach and Charles Gaines. An exhibition of sculptural models of their proposed artworks will be exhibited from February 21 to April 30, 2017 on the High Line at West 14th Street. Two out of the 12 shortlisted proposals will then be selected as the first two High Line Plinth commissions. The first artwork will be installed in 2019 to coincide with the opening of the Spur, and each artwork will be on view for 18 months.

The new section of the High Line that features the Plinth, the Spur, is designed to bring together the three most beloved aspects of the park: horticulture, public programs, and art. As the largest open space on the High Line, the Spur offers unprecedented sightlines with sweeping views of New York City, lush, canopy-like plantings, public seating, and more open space for the High Line to expand its free programming and public art program. The Spur is designed by James Corner Field Operations (Project Lead), Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and Piet Oudolf.

The High Line Plinth is one of the only sites in New York City dedicated solely to a changing series of new, contemporary art commissions. Artworks selected for the Plinth will change the skyscape of the city, viewable from many different vantage points: from the street, from rooftops, from the east and west on 30th Street, and from the north and south on 10thAvenue. Given the changes occurring in the neighborhoods surrounding the High Line and in many parts of New York City, it is essential now more than ever to designate a space in the area that is permanently devoted to culture, art, and the exchange of ideas.

High Line Art worked with an international advisory committee of 13 artists, curators, and art world professionals who each submitted recommendations of artists to invite to submit a proposal for the Plinth. This committee includes Carol Bove (artist), Yilmaz Dziewior (Director, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany), Reem Fadda (Associate Curator, Middle Eastern Art, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Project, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum), Rashid Johnson (artist), Eungie Joo (independent curator), Pablo Leon de la Barra (Director, Casa França-Brasil, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), Helen Molesworth (Chief Curator, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles), Virginia Overton (artist), Franklin Sirmans (Director, Pérez Art Museum Miami), Mari Spirito (Alt art space and Protocinema, Istanbul, Turkey), Phil Tinari (Director, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, China), Adrian Villar Rojas (artist), and Jochen Volz (Curator, 32nd São Paulo Biennial, São Paulo, Brazil). High Line Art then selected 12 shortlisted artists, two of whom will be chosen to present the first two inaugural High Line Plinth commissions.

The Shortlisted Proposals

Jonathan Berger (b. 1980, New York, New York. Lives and works in New York) proposes Bell Machine, a working carillon that exists simultaneously as a piece of sculpture and an instrument. Inspired by the 17th century designs of Athanasius Kircher, the piece consists of a structure housing a large metal drum, whose rotation activates a series of small hammers that ring the 183 bells which are suspended above—operating much like a music box or player piano. Berger proposes to work with The Verdin Company, America’s oldest bell foundry, to design, fabricate, and assemble the carillon’s structural framework, bells, and mechanics. Berger plans to collaborate with artist and musician Michael Stipe, who will write eighteen musical pieces for the carillon, each of which will play for one of the eighteen months that the work is on view.

Listen to a sample piece of music composed by Michael Stipe for Bell Machine  here (Copyright JMS MUSIC)

Minerva Cuevas (b. 1975, Mexico City, Mexico. Lives and works in Mexico City) proposes Rumble, a brass sculpture of an elephant lifted upside-down by a crane and a musical performance that will accompany the unveiling of the piece. Inspired by the elephant as a symbol for strength, dignity, and peace, and the crane as a symbol of metropolitan redevelopment, Cuevas’s sculpture asks viewers to reflect on our relationship with the natural world. Rumble draws from instances such as P.T. Barnum’s “elephant walk” in 1884 on the newly built Brooklyn Bridge, underscoring the elephant’s dwarfed presence in contrast to the monumentality of the city’s infrastructure.

Jeremy Deller (b. 1966, London, United Kingdom. Lives and works in London) proposes The Chameleon Slide, a playful and interactive giant chameleon that has the dual purpose as a children’s slide and a sculpture. As the artist explains, “there is something magical about chameleons; they can do things that we can only dream of.” Having previously presented projects that restage historical conflicts and offer alternative interpretations of grandiose monuments, Deller offers a contemporary monument – one that brings joy to the public.

Sam Durant (b. 1961, Seattle, Washington. Lives and works in Los Angeles, California) proposes Untitled (drone), a replica of a drone mounted high above the piazza level. Stripped of its external devices, the abstracted plane evokes the polished modernist sculptural forms of artists like Constantin Brancusi and Barbara Hepworth. The drone acts as a wind vane, rotating atop its 20-foot column. In recognizing the sculpture as a drone, visitors may imagine a shadow that, while largely absent in the United States, is increasingly omnipresent in regions far from our own.

Charles Gaines (b. 1944, Charleston, South Carolina. Lives and works in Los Angeles, California) proposes Tilted Tower, a 45-foot aluminum obelisk with a column of chambers, tilted at an angle of 82 degrees leaning towards the United States Postal Service Morgan General Mail Facility building at the southeast corner of West 30th Street and 10th Avenue. Inside each chamber is a replica of a mailbox, each outfitted with a plaque dedicated to a discontinued New York-area newspaper. The work pays homage to the United States Postal Service and print journalism, two institutions that have historically bridged the space between democracy and capitalism.

Lena Henke (b. 1982, Warburg, Germany. Lives and works in New York, New York) proposes Ascent of a Woman, a sculpture of a singular, gigantic, upturned breast made out of soil and sand with a solid aluminum inner cast. With the changing seasons, the outer layer slowly erodes and new forms emerge. The sculpture also changes frequently at the hand of Henke, who would hand-sculpt the breast throughout the eighteen months it is on view. The piece references the High Line’s history as a lifeline, originally a conduit for foodstuffs. The breast also pays homage to mothers and the act of nursing, citing the legend of Romulus and Remus, who were nursed by a she-wolf on their journey that led to the founding of Rome – and thus Western Civilization.

Matthew Day Jackson (b. 1974, Panorama City, California. Lives and works in New York, New York) proposes The Great Stone Faces, a faux rock tower installed on a steel armature and populated by cast bronze nocturnal animals. The work is inspired by a myriad of sources including Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion of 1929, Disneyland’s Matterhorn ride, W. G. Sebald’s novel Austerlitz, John James Audubon’s Birds of America, and outdoor outfitter retail chains. The work seeks to point out the strange ways in which humans glorify nature through synthetic recreation, which often mirrors society in both its inhabitants and constructed environment.

Simone Leigh (b. 1968, Chicago, Illinois. Lives and works in New York, New York) proposes Cupboard VII, her first monumental work in her continuing series of sculptures, Anatomy of Architecture, which combines vernacular forms from places as varied as West Africa and the American South with the human body. The sculpture is an 18-foot-high bronze bust comprised of a head adorned with flowers sitting atop a torso in the shape of a conflated image of a skirt and a clay house. This figurative work continues her ongoing exploration of black female subjectivity, articulating the black woman’s body as a space of habitation, comfort, shelter, and consumption.

Roman Ondak (b. 1966, Zilina, Slovakia. Lives and works in Bratislava, Slovakia) proposes a sculpture titled The Island, in which he mounts replicas of all the 193 United Nations member states’ flags on flagpoles arranged in alphabetical order in a compact grid on the Plinth. These flags, which are on view in front of the United Nations Headquarters, are scaled to match the size suitable for all of them to fit on the surface of the Plinth. They are placed in such close proximity to each other that the national flags blend together to form a single entity.

Paola Pivi (b. 1971, Milan, Italy. Lives and works in Anchorage, Alaska) proposes a reproduction of the Statue of Liberty standing 20 feet high and with an inflatable cartoon-style mask affixed onto Lady Liberty’s visage. The mask changes weekly, with each cartoon face representing a person who has gained his or her freedom in the United States, or who aspires to do so. The stories of the individuals represented will be available for visitors to reference online. The work is in part inspired by Pivi’s personal struggle with her adopted son’s immigration to the United States, a process that left her and her family stranded thousands of miles from home for over four years.

Haim Steinbach (b. 1944, Rehovot, Israel. Lives and works in New York, New York) proposes Chicken Coop, a found chicken coop on 22-foot stilts that acts as an elevated “urban escape,” maximizing the distance from the city. Steinbach reimagines the chicken coop, an overlooked object of rural architecture and design in the form of an idyllic domain. He adds this exclusive, elevated unit to the plethora of high-rises popping up along the already elevated High Line. Chicken Coop envisions raising chickens within the framework of human demographics and economics.

Cosima von Bonin (b. 1962, Mombasa, Kenya. Lives and works in Cologne, Germany) proposes WORKING IDLER, a sculpture of a Pinocchio-like figure with his elongated nose caught in a cement wall. The figure stands on the Plinth with two staircases and a lift allowing access to the platform, giving viewers access to stand next to Pinocchio. The figure of Pinocchio recurs in von Bonin’s work as a reference to sloth, laziness, and lying. Von Bonin derived the specific likeness for this character from a number of antique children’s books she collected in her research, specifically that of an Italian Pinocchio depicted in the 1930s.


Major support for the High Line Plinth comes from the High Line Plinth Committee, a group of contemporary art leaders committed to realizing major commissions and engaging in the public success of the Plinth. The High Line Plinth Committee includes Shelley Fox Aarons, Fairfax Dorn, Andrew Hall, Hermine Riegerl Heller, J. Tomilson Hill, Dorothy Lichtenstein, Donald R. Mullen, Jr., Mario J. Palumbo, Jr, and Anonymous.

Lead support for High Line Art comes from Amanda and Don Mullen. Major support for High Line Art is provided by The Brown Foundation, Inc. of Houston, and Charina Endowment Fund. High Line Art is supported, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the New York City Council, under the leadership of Speaker Corey Johnson.