Governor's Island Sculpture Fest

Tootling about the harbor on various subsidized ferries beneath the splishing and splashing of Eliasson's waterfalls, strolling across manicured lawns overflowing with sculpture and perusing the public galleries of Governor's Island, we new yorkers might be forgiven for thinking we suddenly live in Copenhagen. Or Amsterdam, or one of those other civilized cities where recreation and culture go hand-in-hand, provided absolutely free-of-charge to an entitled citizenry by an enlightened government. It's shocking, really.

On a recent trip to see the sculpture of that notorious Red Hook blacksmith, Mr. Norbert Kimmel, we could have left our wallets at home without in the least reducing the fun quotient. And this in the city where Rudy Giuliani urged the populace to go shopping in the wake of 9/11. After taking the addictive, free IKEA water-taxi service through the harbor to South Street Seaport, a brief few hundred yards of cycling down the shoreline brought us to the also-free Governor's Island ferry, which transported us halfway back towards Red Hook from its glorious old copper-green patinaed terminal. Here, on the grounds of the old Coast Guard Academy, in a verdant, tranquil, campus-like setting, we picnicked on a pack lunch and wandered through courtyards filled with sculpture.

A bovine steel offering from Norbert Kimmel. The cow is a sandwich of three curvaceous steel bands, with the central body and head ingeniously suspended between the legs, making a giant spring that balances and nods in the breeze, as if the beast were about to put its head down and start munching grass. An adjacent building, perhaps former officer's quarters for coast guard instructors, was crammed with smaller and less weather-resistant sculptural works, including Kimmel's fabulous mandala-like wall-mounted lamps.

Wandering the island, we came across this shady lane, spookily named "Kimmel Rd."

The anxiety of the crowd: I very much liked this terra-cotta baby army of fat and nervous toddlers clumped together on the lawn, by Andy Liu. Clearly referencing the terra-cotta battalions of Dunhuong, below, this piece manages both historical resonance and science fiction. The portly, buddhaesque children, the seams from their castings running laterally from ear-to-ear, exposed and raw, traces of the cement umbilical cords connecting them to their creator, are obviously waiting for something. What? Intergalactic intervention? Deliverance? Although one hates to break up the set, and I'm generally opposed to putting statues in the garden, I'd love to see one of these out in the back yard, peering up through the jungle of tomato plants.

I also quite liked this squirrel's tail dispensary by Hartmut Stockter, offering cuteness to the rats of Governor's Island. The box, a sort of museum display case on burnished legs, is filled with squirrel tails. A ramp provides access for any rats desirous of beautifying themselves--all they need to do is stop on by and attach.

The trip to Governor's Island is worth making for the Manhattan views alone. On the way over we ran into honorary Red Hookians and fellow IKEA-ferry exploiters Kamilla Talbot and Michael Herstand, en route to enjoying yet another Governor's Island art opportunity. Talbot teaches watercolor painting at the New York Studio School, and one of the Governor's Island buildings held an exhibition of the work generated by her class.

We stopped in and found this beautiful and enormous Talbot watercolor, compiled from many separate square sheets. In a final eery coincidence, it was titled "Kimmel Road."

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