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Rockefeller Centre becomes art gallery for two months

Artist Jaume Plensa’s ‘Behind the Walls’ is on display at Rockefeller Centre in New York April 25, 2019. — AFP pic
Artist Jaume Plensa’s ‘Behind the Walls’ is on display at Rockefeller Centre in New York April 25, 2019. — AFP pic

NEW YORK, April 26 — New York’s Rockefeller Centre, famous for its ice rink and art deco buildings, was transformed yesterday into an art gallery housing 20 sculptures, some of them with a heavy political slant.

The exhibition was organised by the group Frieze and will remain up until the end of June. It is spread throughout the Rockefeller Centre, which covers an area of three city blocks and was built in the 1930s in the very heart of Manhattan. It has featured artworks before, but never a full-on exhibition.

Curator Brett Littman said he had chosen artists from a variety of backgrounds, including Hispanic and African, and that he insisted on the inclusion of female artists — four of them in total.

Artist Paulo Nazareth’s ‘DRY CUT (from Blacksin the Pool-Tommie)’ is on display at Rockefeller Centre in New York April 25, 2019. — AFP pic
Artist Paulo Nazareth’s ‘DRY CUT (from Blacksin the Pool-Tommie)’ is on display at Rockefeller Centre in New York April 25, 2019. — AFP pic

Many of the artworks play off the vertical spaces of the urban architecture.

Although Littman said there was no overt theme, “one of the things that really comes through for me is that this is a fraught political time and many artists are thinking about that.”

Two huge cut-out shapes are placed on either side of the entrance to the main building, one representing the sprinter Tommie Smith, famous for raising a clenched fist in a Black Power salute on the podium at the 1968 Olympic Games.

Artist Hank Willis Thomas ‘Josephine and Kazumi (Real Red)’ is on display at Rockefeller Centre in New York April 25, 2019. — AFP pic
Artist Hank Willis Thomas ‘Josephine and Kazumi (Real Red)’ is on display at Rockefeller Centre in New York April 25, 2019. — AFP pic

On the other side is Ruby Bridges who, at the age of six, became the first African American child to be admitted to a white elementary school in the segregated American South in 1960.

Paulo Nazareth, the Brazilian creator of the two sculptures, saw symbolism in the proximity of the Ruby Bridges statue to a toy shop on the ground floor of the centre, which the little girl might well have been forbidden from entering in her own lifetime.

Artist Ibrahim Mahama’s ‘Untitled,’ jute sack ‘flags’ is on display at Rockefeller Centre in New York April 25, 2019. — AFP pic
Artist Ibrahim Mahama’s ‘Untitled,’ jute sack ‘flags’ is on display at Rockefeller Centre in New York April 25, 2019. — AFP pic

Another politically themed work is by Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama, who replaced the 192 flags of the United Nations members states that normally line the ice skating rink with flags made of jute, a cheap material used as sacks in his homeland.

“This is about his critique of global capitalism, his idea of the spice trade, the slave trade, even immigration in Africa,” said Littman.

“So it represents quite a few things and also it really changes the landscape,” he said. — AFP

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