Art on the Road: Hudson Yards

An architectural enclave for the uber-wealthy rises in Manhattan, with a hollow folly in the middle. Also: Ceramic bunnies for the well-to-do.


STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRIDERIKE HEUER


NEW YORK – Hudson Yards, the twenty-five-billion-dollar, twenty-eight-acre new development in what used to be the Meat Packing district, is probably the most artificial site in all of New York City, an unadulterated celebration of excess and greed.

New high rises in and around Hudson Yard

As the New Yorker put it earlier in 2019 when many of the structures in this development opened: it’s the Hotel California of NYC:

“It is a private space masquerading as a public one. It is the realized vision of one man, the developer Stephen Ross, the founder and chairman of Related Companies, who brought us the Time Warner Center a decade and a half ago. Ross, who will soon move into a penthouse at the development, calls his creation a neighborhood— ‘the neighborhood of the future,’ in his company’s advertising lingo. In reality it is an enclave, a high-end corporate park buoyed by six billion dollars in tax breaks—an amount that dwarfs the subsidies offered to Amazon for its scuttled Queens headquarters—and designed as a kind of amenity-stuffed Hotel California that its residents never have to leave. (There are a limited number of so-called affordable units; in keeping with precedent in our city’s age of latter-day luxury, the people who live in them will have separate amenities, upstairs/downstairs style.) The only thing that Hudson Yards is missing is its own weather.”

Views from the High Line toward the old Meat Packing District

THE HIGH LINE, ONCE AN IMAGINATIVE NEW URBAN PARK (although it gave real estate companies license to dramatically hike property values in the Meatpacking District,) now seems like a walkway, filled with throngs of tourists, moving through this luxury neighborhood unstoppably toward the nouveau-riche shopping center at its end and a hollow folly placed in the middle of it all: The Vessel. If there ever was a perfect symbol for grifter capitalism, this is it.

The Vessel

Designed by Thomas Heatherwick, the close to $200 million structure sports staircases rising into the air 150 feet – going nowhere. I take that back: They afford you views of the shores of New Jersey, advertisements from the adjacent mall, and endless opportunities to take selfies (note the terms of service agreement, though, which granted The Vessel all rights to any photos, audio, or video you take at the structure – meaning the developer could use your likeness for any commercial activity forever.)

As a supposed public amenity it sure lacks places to sit, although climbing it is technically free. Clad in gaudy copper, it also serves as an amenity for the neighboring luxury apartment buildings (condos start at $2 million). The website for one of the luxury towers, 1 Hudson Yards, highlights the fact that the building overlooks the Vessel as a prime reason for why someone should spend $9,000 per month in rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the tower. The Vessel gives Related built-in marketing.

No wonder New Yorkers call it the golden Shawarma, among others.

And no, I did not climb it.

As the architecture and cultural critic puts it in her essay in The Baffler:

Fuck The Vessel

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CLOSE BY IS ANOTHER ARCHITECTURAL NOVELTY: The Shed. The Washington Post‘s headline and attached article The-shed-is-the-only-reason-to-go-to-hudson-yards-new-yorks-most-hated-new-development captured it pretty accurately. Most people, of course, will walk by the new cultural and arts center without a clue what this thing is or can do: In the Post’s words, it’s “a boxlike form projecting out of the bottom of a high-rise residential tower, and a canopy with translucent plastic side panels, mounted on wheels and rails, that opens onto a public plaza. When the extension canopy is open, it incorporates a huge volume of temporary space for performances. A bit of leavening in this whole miserable, embarrassing tale of urban gigantism and one-percenter excess.”

High Line approaching the Shed

Built at industrial scale, with industrial elements, The Shed includes six-foot-wide steel wheels that carry the 120-foot-tall canopy along the rails, like the giant cranes that load cargo ships in a modern seaport. Clad in pillows of synthetic material that mimic the thermal properties of glass (with a fraction of the weight), the Shed, when open, encloses some 2 million cubic feet of interior space and can accommodate up to 3,000 people when the inner galleries are configured for expanded seating.

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EARLIER IN THE DAY, I HAD MARVELED AT BUNNIES. Well, “marvel” is perhaps the wrong verb. I had wracked my brain about who would buy these ceramic sculptures (larger than life by a factor of multitudes), priced between $14,000 and $28,000. They were on exhibit at Dienst&Dotter Antikviteter, a store specializing in Scandinavian antiquities and art. The work, titled A Place behind the Oaktree, is by Margit Brundin, who is an accomplished Swedish ceramicist (with an MFA in ceramic arts from the University of Goethenburg) whose work is in collections of the National Museum in Stockholm, the Röhsska Museum in Gothenburg, and others.

Margit Brundin, Stargazer 
Margit Brundin, Watching You

The workmanship impressed, the whimsical quality appealed. The sculptures are built in a three-month-long process from red stoneware clay and coil construction. The forms are painted with liquid clay colored with oxides like copper, iron, manganese and cobalt, capturing light that hints at movement. If only she’d abstained from the anthropomorphizing. … Rolling tears, facial expression, references to Narcissus at the pool – why imbue the hares with human qualities, when a plain description of the beauty of nature via that terrific accumulation of her skills as a ceramicist and her artistic eye would have sufficed?

Margit Brundin, Lean on Me
Margit Brundin, Silent Conversation
Margit Brundin, Mirror Mirror

Wouldn’t you know it, my dreams were filled of them. They raced up and down that folly of a Vessel, as if they had discovered it as a vertical rabbit warren, trying to flee the lure of commercialism and consumerism all around them, with no escape at the end of the tunnels. There’s 2019 New York for you.

Luckily, we who have lived here and love the city to no end are occasionally saved by humor. The photograph below was taken on the High Line: Someone thought it sufficient punishment for you-know-who to be forever watching the masses milling about the debacle of an artificial neighborhood.


This photo essay ran originally on YDP – Your Daily Picture, Friderike Heuer’s web page, on Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, under the title “Art on the Road: Hudson Yards, NYC,” and is reprinted here with permission.

2 Responses.

  1. Marlene Archer says:

    As a New Yorker who has walked the High Line, enjoyed the stroll and the idea that an unused rail track could be put to good use, I am appreciative of Ms. Heuer’s keen observation that the High Line is not the story but the development of an oasis for the rich and privileged is.

    The structures surrounding the High Line and the development of Hudson Yards are odes to capitalism and excess. Would New York not have been better served with affordable housing to retain our teachers, civil servants, health care workers, and the workers who will benefit from the hard won $15-an-hour minimum wage but who can no longer reside in Manhattan?

  2. Marlene Archer says:

    My previous comment focused on the political, which is interesting, but failed to mention art, which can be beautiful. The photographs Ms. Heuer took of from the High Line are sensational, They capture the sense of renewal of an area and demonstrate how a whimsical folly can spark interest and conversation. They are beautiful.

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