Island of Art

Two wave statues temporarily placed on the Island as part of the City-wide La Mer Wave Walk project may be the most recent art installations to grace our shores, but if Tad Sudol has his way, they will be far from the last. The president of the Roosevelt Island Visual Art Association (RIVAA) has long pursued a vision of transforming Roosevelt Island into an “Island of Art.”

In addition to running Gallery RIVAA at 527 Main Street, Sudol has advocated for multiple public art installations over the years, including acquisition of Blue Dragon at Southpoint Park, creation of the Motorgate Gallery, and the placement of the two La Mer sculptures.

And Sudol says he’s just getting started.

One of two La Mer Wave sculptures on the Island.

A Destination for Art

According to Sudol, the cows led the way.

CowParade was the world’s largest public art event, with installations staged in 79 cities worldwide starting in 1999. More than 10,000 artists participated in CowParade – professional and amateur, famous and emerging, young and old – and more than 5,000 cows were ultimately created. New York’s cows were placed in both public and private locations during the event. One still graces Roosevelt Island’s PS/IS 217 and is visible from the west promenade.

A more recent Island addition, Blue Dragon, was officially unveiled in April 2016. Working with the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, RIVAA arranged for Gustav Kraitz’s 9-by-3 foot sculpture to be placed at the entrance to Southpoint Park.

Hungarian-born Kraitz survived a Soviet forced-labor camp in 1945, and eventually settled in Sweden. He is best known in New York for Hope, his sculpture completed in honor of Swedish World War II hero, Raul Wallenberg, which sits at 47th Street and First Avenue facing the United Nations. Kraitz donated Blue Dragon to the Island after taking a tour with Sudol and RIVAA associate, Elizabeth Stapen. Blue Dragon faces Kraitz’ other piece, Hope, across the river.

“He fell in love with the Island,” says Sudol.

And, according to Sudol, the Island’s children have fallen in love with Kraitz’s work. At the dedication, recalls Sudol, the artist told the crowd, “‘This sculpture, Blue Dragon, came from Sweden through the water. It is done in Swedish black marble, with blue eyes. I donated it to Roosevelt Island to make the Island more artistic. This sculpture is meant to be touched, especially by children.’ Now, whenever I pass it, there are always children sitting on it, and it’s great.”

Sudol is also credited with the conception of the Motorgate Gallery, which showcases paintings created at the Island’s annual Fall for the Arts festival. “For many years, those panels were in different storages. I came up with the idea of putting them in Motorgate,” recollects Sudol. He credits RIOC Board member Margie Smith with advocating for the idea.

“The first year, two [RIOC Board members] stated that they thought it would be a waste of time and money [to display art in Motorgate]. They said there would be grafitti the next day. I said, ‘What money? It’s already painted. If there will be grafitti, there will be grafitti. We will learn.’”

Sudol says that, deep down, he feared that they were right, but the closest they ever came to being graffitied happened recently. He recalls, “I was walking into Motorgate and saw a guy standing under the escalator by a painting. I was ready to jump. Turned out it was the artist adding something.”

More to Come

From Sudol’s perspective, the Island’s temporary acquisition of the two La Mer wave sculptures signal something larger for the Island’s art scene. “I think this is a unique opportunity to work with RIOC and to work, maybe, even with Cornell and Hudson Related to put together some kind of process in making this Island an Island of art.”

As for next steps, Sudol has a few ideas. “I am already working with another artist. I took a long walk with him.”

A proposed sculpture by Donald Gerola envisioned for the Island by RIVAA President Tad Sudol.

That artist is New Jersey-bred Donald Gerola. “Everything [in Gerola’s art] is moveable, thanks to the wind,” says Sudol. “He wants to install two pieces on the Island for three years. The beginning of the proposal was quite interesting.”

Gerola and Sudol envision placing a 25-foot-tall kinetic sculpture along the promenade just south of Westview’s cherry trees. “Every boat will turn to the right to be closer and see it,” says Sudol.

They’d like to place a second sculpture at the triangle on the Rivercross lawn, at the beginning of the entrance to Main Street.

Gerola, who studied physics at the University of Dayton, often works with steel. His pieces can weigh as much as 10,000 pounds and typically require cranes to move. The steel is left to rust naturally or painted in high-tech enamel finishes.

Gerola sees public art as a partnership between imagination and reality and views it as a gift to adorn cities and landscapes that include nature and historical legacy. In his three decades as an artist, he has built an imposing collection of steel sculptures from the monumental to smaller works amid urban and private spaces.

Of his style, Gerola explains, “Presently, I combine the artistic styles I set for myself in urban public installations, new sculpture sea series, and my signature fresco paintings incorporating fibers and 3-D perspectives. I follow no guides except my personal ones and embrace risk – risks in creating public projects that use colorful weaving as an historical linkage between and within spaces, rivers, and unused landscapes.”

Sudol says a presentation to RIOC is upcoming.

First Plinth

Another of Sudol’s upcoming installations, First Plinth, is an homage to London’s Fourth Plinth. There is a plinth [sculpture base] at each of the four corners of London’s Trafalgar Square. The fourth one, on the northwest corner, was intended to hold an equestrian statue of William IV, but remained empty due to insufficient funds.

For over 150 years the fate of the plinth was debated. Finally, in 1998, three contemporary sculptures were commissioned to be displayed temporarily on it. Currently, the plinth displays a rolling program of temporary artworks.

“[RIVAA] is working with RIOC on First Plinth,” says Sudol. “We want to rotate sculptures every two years.”

As of now, Sudol lists Long Island City metal shop owner James A. Pignetti, sculptor Victoria Thorson, sculptor Michael Post, and Island activist Vicki Feinmel as collaborators in this endeavor. Post’s sculpture will be the first, says Sudol.

According to Sudol, RIOC – particularly Rosenthal – has embraced this project. “We have had several meetings, including a full size mockup,” he says. He’s not sharing the mockup, though, because “I think sometimes imagination can work quite well.” Sudol believes it should be ready by September. He envisions placing it in the Good Shepherd Plaza garden. “It’s a little bit discreet, but it is a place where people can enjoy it.”

Repurposing the Old Tram

Sudol also has a vision for how to repurpose the old Tram cars currently sitting behind Motorgate. He has long advocated creating a large sculpture with the old Tram wheels in the decommissioned Motorgate escalators. “I think it is a win-win situation for everyone. We already have the wheels, and a decommissioned escalator. So we have everything. This is not only keeping the parts as a sculpture, but historical elements in perfect shape.”

As for the Tram cabins: “The fruit guy. What about we repair it, and we give it to him? Now it looks so ugly.

During the very sunny days, we can put a small canopy in front. It costs a little to clean it and move it, but then we’ll have a functional sculpture. Everyone who comes out of the subway will say, ‘There is a Tram!’ I think it’s a great idea!”

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