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Span of time: Art exhibit revives a decades-old sculpture

Bridge under bridge: Siah Armajani’s public artwork “Bridge over Tree” comes to Empire Fulton Ferry Park in Dumbo, almost 50 years after its original installation in a Minneapolis public park.
Brooklyn Paper
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It’s the original bridge to nowhere!

The new interactive art installation now stretching across Empire Fulton Ferry Park is a revival of an almost half-century-old piece of public art. The 91-foot-long “Bridge Over Tree,” by Iranian-American artist Siah Armajani, does not span a ravine — instead, it sits on the ground for most of its length, then rises sharply over an evergreen tree at its center. The sculpture’s lack of functionality invites viewers to appreciate it in a new way, according to its curator.

“It’s taking that idea of the bridge and stripping away its functional necessity and creating this poetic moment, a line that connects two points, two people perhaps, that invites you to think about what it means to bridge and to cross,” said Nicholas Baume, director of the Public Art Fund.

The bridge was first displayed in a Minneapolis public park in 1970, when the idea of interactive art was radically new. The piece literally bridged the gap between the general public and works of art, according to Baume.

“Today we’re all about immersive experiences and interactivity, but in 1970, artists were not thinking about sculpture in that way. A sculpture was an object on a pedestal,” he said.

Armajani fled his native Iran in 1960 due to his pro-democracy stance, and the political connotations of his work — a reminder not to foster division — is even more relevant today, said Baume.

“In an era obsessed with walls and fences, the bridge-building public work of this Iranian exile is perhaps even more urgent now than when first conceived in 1970,” he said.

With its trussed sides and shingled roof, the structure stands in stark contrast to the twin behemoths of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, which straddle either side of the park.

On a recent Tuesday morning, children climbed up and down the steep steps in the middle, pausing to take in the vista of the Manhattan skyline. In the half-century since “Bridge Over Tree” debuted, the public has grown closer to public art, and art become more accessible to the public, Baume observed, especially in the Big Apple.

“I think it’s fascinating to see how the public now responds so warmly, actually does recognize that this is a work of art, that this is something to be appreciated and engaged with,” he said. “And I think there’s a wonderful respect now and appreciation in New York City by the general public of what it means to have art as a part of our daily lives, not just something that you go to a museum once in a while to experience, but something that’s free and open and available.”

“Bridge over Tree” at Empire Fulton Ferry Park [1 Water St. at Dock Street in Dumbo. (718) 222–9939, www.brooklynbridgepark.org]. Open daily through Sept. 29. Free.

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kduggan@schnepsmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.
Posted 12:00 am, February 20, 2019
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