Brooke Kamin Rapaport is senior curator at the Madison Square Park Conservancy. Mad. Sq. Art, the free, contemporary art program organized by the Park Conservancy, is currently presenting Ideas of Stone (Idee di pietra), a sculptural installation by Italian artist Giuseppe Penone comprised of three 30-foot tall bronze trees. I was delighted to speak with Brooke recently about the project and her role as a curator working in the public sphere.
Liz Luna: Giuseppe Penone says his work highlights the relationships between man, sculpture and nature. How does this project engage with nature and the changing seasons? What added challenges do “the elements” and perhaps even the Park visitors present?
Brooke Kamin Rapaport: The public is fascinated because the bronze sculptures are true to life—they were cast in Italy from actual Elm, Nettle and Chestnut trees. Their location on Madison Square Park’s Oval Lawn—amidst mature trees—has been happily confounding to some. When people look closely, they are amazed that heavy, ponderous boulders are nestled into the tree branches and trunks. Those moments of fascination, enrapture, and investigation are what we wish for our audience.
LL: What did you enjoy most about working with Penone?
BKR: Giuseppe Penone was a pleasure to work with. He is a world-class sculptor, an exacting artist whose goal for Madison Square Park was not simply the display of his three bronze trees, but how the viewer will recognize and respond to them. At the outset of the installation, he determinedly walked around the site to take in installation angles and conceive how best the viewer would experience the objects.
LL: From a curatorial perspective, what were the challenges of bringing Ideas of Stone (Idee di pietra) to fruition?
BKR: When the artist arrived on site in New York from Turin and surveyed the site, he immediately knew Ideas of Stone – Elm should move to the North area of the Oval Lawn. It was a switch from the original plan, but his updated idea for placement was correct.
LL: Madison Square Park receives 50,000 visitors per day, many of whom may not be expecting to encounter an art installation during their visit. How is curating for a public space in New York City different from curating in an enclosed museum space?
BKR: We think of Madison Square Park as a museum without walls because of the 19th century park plan which created discrete spaces of greenery organized by winding walking paths. Those lawns act as separate rooms to program with contemporary sculpture. For Penone, who visited our site several years ago in anticipation of his show, Madison Square Park posed unique circumstances. During the installation, he commented on how the park’s perimeter—the historic skyscrapers, pedestrians, and dissonant cars, taxis, bicycles traffic—influenced his vision for the installation. He also had in mind the changing seasons and how the live trees would impact the sculpture trees. Penone sited the three sculptures—Ideas of Stone – Elm, Triple, and Ideas of Stone – 1303 kg of Light—and was sensitive to the correct placement of each work on the Oval Lawn.
The three bronze sculptures are subtle and contemplative. Visitors to the park are mesmerized by their quietude and have taken to them as a refuge. Penone’s trees have become our trees, really, because they further animate and consider the flora already on site.