Park Review: Don't Overlook These Oysters
The artful Chelsea playground you need to visit this summer.
Field Notes is a monthly column covering the beautiful and strange structures that decorate the New York City landscape. From playgrounds to whimsical hidden gems, the city’s finest forms of design and architecture are dissected here.
Of all the neighborhoods in New York City, name one more art-filled than Chelsea. Sure, the Upper East Side is home to a handful of monumental institutions and the great gallery migration to Tribeca is going strong. Still, the sheer density of galleries sandwiched between 10th and 11th Avenues is unmatched.
One of the great spoils of working in the arts is the inevitability of working in Chelsea. As I continue to forge my path in this field, I’ve managed to land here a few times. I’m currently serving my second stint in this neighborhood, enjoying the occasional Bottino sandwich (the 9.5 on sourdough hits every note of taste) and making my rounds to see exhibitions on view at the neighboring galleries. I always try to pry myself away from my desk for at least half an hour each day because, well, what good will my work even be if I allow my eyes to gradually melt from staring at never-ending lines of text all day? Instead of my usual going in for a quick visual, intellectual, overall sensory stimulating experience of art browsing, I went to a playground.
Like a moth to a flame, the vivid yellow, blue, and red equipment forming the shape of a giant snake that was beaming in the sunlight caught my attention from the corner of 23rd and 11th and pulled me into the oddly wedged space between a construction zone and the intersection. In this area of the city where the general color palate is varying shades of concrete, I needed to see what the deal is with this pop of color. I meandered my way up the looping pathway to take a gander at the gargantuan serpent and stumbled upon a sight I was far from anticipating to see, oyster sculptures.
Rendering courtesy of MONSTRUM, Denmark, and Hudson River Park.
Yes, oyster sculptures. There could not be more fitting playground accouterments in this neighborhood than monuments dedicated to decadence and the familiarity of being acquainted with small silver spoons. I classify them as sculptures since the playability of these plastic crustaceans is nonexistent! They do not have handles to grasp to pull oneself onto them, they aren’t flush to the ground to climb upon, and the pearl does not even spin! It is a silver orb stuck in playtime purgatory.
Their stylized presence works with their surroundings, the Zaha Hadid residential building that looms a few blocks north of the playground and undulates in a related pattern with a deep concave corner with the High Line as its pearl. Multiple layers of a pixelated-appearing shells are constructed as if a 3D printer stratified each slice. Their dimensionality is enhanced by the few shades of gray, simplifying the otherwise organically complex colors that naturally occur from a life lived many years under the sea. As I was inspecting them like I would a “formal” sculpture, I couldn’t help but wonder, why are they here? Aside from being shells by a river shore, their playground presence is purely aesthetic.
In all fairness and realistically speaking, these could be easily on view in any one of the galleries within their radius and sell for racks on racks if the right artist name was found out to be their creator. I won’t name names, but I’ve seen far less attractive pieces in white cubes across mediums. I’ve always found art to have a stronger impact on me when the work is situated in a place that reflects either the artists’ or the subjects’ origins. On the top of my mind is "Powerless Structures, Fig. 11," 1997 by Elmgreen & Dragset, that I saw last summer at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.
In one of the Scandinavian light-filled galleries was what looked to be a child-sized diving board with the stairs firmly planted in the gallery floor and the diving board extending past the limits of the room, breaking free into nature, and when viewed at the perfect gives the appearance that if you were to spring off of the board you would land in the Øresund strait between Denmark and Sweden. If one did not know better or wanted to spread a rumor, the oyster sculptures could be attributed to Claus Oldenberg as one of his many oversized, inedible delights or another cheeky little number by Elmgreen & Dragset, as they perfectly place their work in spaces that enhance the objects themselves.
I also wonder what it would be like to instantly recognize an oyster at such a young age. I imagine spending the summer with one's family in New England where many clambakes would be a weekly event on the beach and freshly shucked oysters on ice would be on display for all to enjoy. In all honesty, I cannot even recall when I learned about oysters. I grew up in a desert and was tricked into eating calamari the first time I had it because its appearance as a consumable dish did not register in my mind that it was the same animal illustrated in picture books as a looming creature residing deep in the ocean. Granted, squids are elusive cephalopods, but living in an environment completely removed from their habitat I made it even more difficult to grasp their existence. Sea creatures were pure fiction to me!
Chelsea children, rejoice in having the upper hand in knowing the ins and outs of aquatic animals. Celebrate your curated playground with a post-playdate seafood tower at Balthazar, why end a day any other way!