Each May, the springtime rituals of Madison Square Park signal the end of a long, cold winter. Tulips reach their peak bloom, foodies flock to the original Shake Shack for a burger fix, and the sound of the Madison Square Fountain turns even the most time-crunched New Yorker into a pastoral park-goer. This year, directly across the street from the newly converted, Neo-Gothic 212 Fifth Avenue condos, the Madison Square Park Conservatory will add its own commanding contribution to the vernal proceedings.
On May 16, the Conservatory unveils Big Bling, a new work by world-renowned craft sculptor Martin Puryear. The forty-foot-high, wooden structure is meant to intrigue visitors with its organic, undulating. rollercoaster-like form, and a gold-leafed, giant ring—perhaps the “bling”— piercing the installation like a massive hoop earring. Since it’s located in the center of Madison Square Park, lucky residents with park-facing NoMad condos will have a chance to meditate on the Big Bling from their windows until January 17, 2017.
It’s fitting that Puryear’s work is displayed within this Pilat and Grant-designed city park that is so close to many New York City landmarks like the Flatiron Building and the Met Life Tower. The Macarthur “Genius Grant” recipient is known for taking elements of urbanity and combining them with those of the natural world. In his sculptures, he’s merged stone and steel, bronze and tar, and, in the case of Big Bling, wood and wire. The entire multi-leveled construction is covered with chain-link fencing.
The New York Times describes Puryear’s oeuvre as “work that’s political, playful, sweet to the eye and deep.” With the Big Bling, his art is once again subject to varied interpretation from the local resident, the in-town-for-a-day tourist, or the most urbane art world regular: Does it represent an animal? Is the “ring” on the top a shackle of oppression? What does the ear-like shape in the center of the commanding sculpture mean? Can the Big Bling be climbed? While the answer to the latter is a decided “No”, Puryear is used to the other questions. He once remarked, “I think there are a number of levels at which my work can be dealt with and appreciated”—which leaves the appreciating and beholding to Madison Square Park’s 50,000 daily visitors.
Puryear is no stranger to grand exhibitions and high-profile attractions. He’s been shown in the Whitney Biennial three times and in 2007, the Museum of Modern Art held a thirty-year retrospective of his work. Currently, his drawings and sketches are on display at the Morgan Library and Museum and, two days after Big Bling opens, Puryear will receive the third annual Yaddo Artist Medal. If there’s a perfect time to view this American master, it’s now, amid the springtime splendor of Madison Square Park.