|Originally purchased from the Native Americans of Manhattan for two ax heads, a string of beads, and a handful of nails, Governors Island was bought by a Dutchman who wanted the island for his own private use. His possession didn’t last, however, and it served as a military base for the next 200 years. In 1903 earth and rubble from the excavation of the Lexington Avenue subway added 103 acres of flat land to the island, so it really is part of New York. After the military left, the Coast Guard moved in, and they too finally departed in 1996.|
Originally purchased from the Native Americans of Manhattan for two ax heads, a string of beads, and a handful of nails, Governors Island was bought by a Dutchman who wanted the island for his own private use. His possession didn’t last, however, and it served as a military base for the next 200 years. In 1903 earth and rubble from the excavation of the Lexington Avenue subway added 103 acres of flat land to the island, so it really is part of New York. After the military left, the Coast Guard moved in, and they too finally departed in 1996. The remaining grounds and residences, still well maintained, have the air of an abandoned suburb, perhaps after a neutron bomb has been detonated. This slightly sinister ambience echoes with the ghostly presence of military families, spit-shined husbands and sexy young wives trying to beat discipline into their army brats. It was in this atmosphere that curator Jerelyn Hanrahan inserted an eclectic group of sculptures, on the lawns, open spaces, and on three floors of an empty house. The works were all by members of the Sculptors’ Guild, of which Hanrahan was the president for the past three years. In these three years, she gave a rather obscure but estimable New York institution some well deserved recognition.
Upon arrival, strolling visitors soon encountered artworks on the road from the ferry, including a large “root” made of twigs and string by Kathleen Vance, realistically girdling a massive old chestnut tree, and further along, on a slope facing the city, a wrecked ship that looked like it might have sailed out of Joe Zucker’s current show of Pirates at Nyehaus in Manhattan. Tom Broadbent’s beautifully crafted Ship of State had been partially dismasted by a recent storm, which only enhanced the wreck in its setting. A hint of our own wrecked state, and of Prospero’s ship in The Tempest, Governors Island seemed like the magic place he had fetched up. Caliban was lurking somewhere among the wealth of hickory, chestnut, and maple trees that offered shade on a steamy August afternoon. Proceeding to the main square of the “village,” visitors could see that Hanrahan had placed works among the trees on the wide lawn, including three slender sculptures from her own studio, mythical figures based on Munch’s Dance of Life. Each ten-foot figure (cast from a shapely human leg,) stood on a hoof-like base. Mythical yet human unipeds facing East, toward the rising sun. Nearby, Anti Liu’s triangular cluster of childlike figures cast in concrete gazed around, as if expecting parents to materialize from the empty houses. Other sculptures dotted the long lawn, notably Lucy Hodgson’s undulating wooden pieces that used old roofing tiles in their construction, like pieces stripped from dwellings hit by the same storm that fetched Broadbent’s ship ashore.
An entire house was taken up with three more floors of sculptures, varying widely in style and content. On the veranda was an exquisitely minimal piece by John Fekner and Steven Ceraso, an old diving board salvaged from one of the communal swimming pools. The piece simply evoked the absurdity and waste of the war in Iraq. Inside the house, laid out in surprising juxtapositions, were the classic female figures of Lloyd Glasson, unexpectedly sitting by a fireplace and on the mantel above it, and an orange sunburst that lighted up another room, fashioned in Plexiglas by Shari Mendelson. Upstairs in a bedroom two massive lions were mating, artfully constructed from masking tape by Rune Olsen. Also present were an ominous map of the world made from toothpicks by Ugar Kunst, and a tiny but very beautiful bronze by Barbara Lekberg, which looked like a maquette for an extraordinary urban colonnade. This diverse and entertaining show proved itself to be well worth the boat trip.