Art, Public Art, is an activating agent!

Vito Acconci, an influential American artist who evolved into performance, video, installation, sculpture, architectural design, and landscape design. Vito saw Art as an expression where you had to think differently, see differently than the public around you, and to accept the presumption—growing belief actually—that Public Art demanded the artist to de-design! Vito once expressed the following revelation about Art as now being an ACTION:

“Art isn’t necessary anymore as a field, a profession; art is no longer a noun, it has become a verb. Art is nothing but a general attitude of thickening the plot.”

As we have cast our gaze on the Moynihan Train Hall, we got a solid glimpse into not only Adaptive Reuse but also the creative people behind the de-design of Penn Station collaborating directly with one another in order to arrive at a solution that is both beautiful AND inspires a renewed sense of arrival at one’s destination as commuters and passengers!

What are your thoughts on the collaboration, the sense of creative community-directed within the de-design that gave us the Moynihan Train Hall on January 1, 2021, within the Acconci statement that Art is now a verb?

Farley Post Office Building De-Designed into the Moynihan Train Hall
Elmgreen & Dragset Hive public ART at the Moynihan Train Hall
Kehinde Wiley’s GO public ART at the Moynihan Train Hall
Stan Douglas’s Penn Station Half Century public ART for the Moynihan Train Hall

Published by: roberttracyphd

Academic professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. I teach theory courses in Art and Architecture History. In addition, I also curate exhibitions on campus as well as in other venues nationally and internationally.

20 Comments

20 thoughts on “Art, Public Art, is an activating agent!”

  1. What Vito Acconci probably meant by art now being a verb is that it’s constantly evolving every single day. Art doesn’t stay stagnant, it gets molded and reshaped as our society and cultures progress. Within the context of the Moynihan Train Hall, Stan Douglas was able to reimagine the impromptu performances during the blizzard of 1914 so that present day citizens can also experience that magical evening. Most people wouldn’t consider choreography and some CG effects as art. However, the definition of art is constantly changing and what Stan Douglas presented to the public is definitely considered art. The definition of art is so malleable and complex that almost anything can really be considered art. But the important part is that it will evolve and “move” as a verb as time goes on.

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  2. Stan Douglas’s project in the new Moynihan Train Hall is inspiring in its intention to connect with the history of community in Penn Station. The story of the 1914 blizzard that trapped people within the train station is terrifying to imagine, but the solution of the entertainment folks in this situation to do what they do best and entertain is an uplifting message. Despite the worst of conditions, the human spirit finds ways to connect with others and find healing. Douglas’s choice to reference this legendary happening through re-enactment and computer graphics in his large-scale photographs that adorn the walls of the Moynihan Train Hall is a nice gesture toward the history of the place and the people that have inhabited it in the past. It’s really interesting how the photographs function as decoration or furniture to the eye of the casual, non-critically-observant traveller, but they also have the potential to spark the curiosity of a traveller into interpreting a deeper meaning within the works. The mixture of old architecture that is rendered digitally and contemporary actors dressed in period clothing from the early 1900’s makes a connection between the people of a hundred years ago and the people that are using that same building in current times for the same purpose. The previous state of Penn Station was the blizzard that the travellers were trapped in, and the impromptu performances of the Vaudevillians shone a light similarly to the open airiness of Moynihan Train Hall.

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  3. There is a relatively recent way of working that integrates different professionals from a project in collaborative sessions to find a solution to a design problem, whose term is “Charrette”. Charrettes do not have a rigid definition or structure, but ideally, in construction, it brings together builders, owners, designers, and even the public. In the case we are talking about, it is an example of a charrette in which artists have been included in these initial conversations where the spirit and route of the project to be carried out are defined.
    It is a victory for the art world, not to be conceived of art as something frivolous that hangs on the wall, where in most cases the important thing is not what is hung but the pose. I believe that Vito Acconci’s definition of art as verb, action, is totally in line with the creation of the concept of Moynihan Train Hall’s work, where art has been one more stakeholder, with its own role, in that art has not been a noun, but a verb in the interaction of the passengers with the environment.
    I think that fortunately, it is a trend in the current architecture, the example of the world-famous architecture firm Herzog and de Meuron comes to mind, where ornamentation is not treated as another superficial element, dispensable, but rather acts as a structure in the most relevant role of the work, for example, its construction of the Prada store in Tokyo, where the ornamental elements of the facade (and interior) are in fact the structure.
    Here at Moynihan Train Hall, SOM has not only chosen to give art equal importance but has even had the good taste (and wisdom) to work with artists in the development of the project by giving art an active role (verb) in the work.

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  4. The collaboration that was brought out from multiple people to bring a certain of excitement to the Moynihan Train Hall is wonderful and for Stan Douglas getting inspiration from the 1914 event is even more extraordinary. Now, as Vito mentioned that art is now a verb instead of a noun is interesting because art nowadays has more of a voice and brings a community together in a special way. Of course, art will always becoming stronger and more popular and that’s why Vito’s statement makes sense, in a way that it doesn’t matter what the circumstances may be but as long you can conquer that main objective.

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  5. With Acconci’s statement being that Art “is now a verb” is interesting and I think I might have to agree with that on some aspect. Art is like the act of actual creating something whether it be for yourself or an audience to admire and look at. In this case with the de-design and collaboration for the Moynihan Train Hall is very admirable to create for the community. There’s so many things art can do to help people and for a community to have a sense of a good-feeling arriving a destination especially during these times in a pandemic is very refreshing and hopeful. At the end of the day, no artist is even obligated to do this for the community, but they decided they wanted to. They wanted to bring this for many people to admire to feel more lively than “dead” on the inside and it goes long ways for people without others realizing and I think it’s a great thing to have happened!

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  6. Vito Acconci mentioning art being a verb further emphasizes the idea that the Moynihan Train Hall’s contribution to society is enhancing creative opportunities and allowing communities to come together with their mutual appreciation for the collaborative pieces and the messages behind them. Overall, these collaborations share a common theme of communities of all backgrounds coming together to overcome life’s obstacles, providing comfort and hope as mentioned in last week’s blog. The solutions that each artist chose for the Moynihan Train Hall are inspirational, showcasing how powerful it is to have a unique approach to de-designing in a way that does not entirely fit the expected norm for something like a train station, opening the doors for audiences to have creative interpretations of their surroundings.

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  7. Vito Acconci’s statement is answered perfectly in his thoughts before. He truly believes art is a verb rather than a noun, and that is because he claims art is the act of thinking actively about the world around you. Thinking is a verb, it is something that we do, rather than a state. The Moynihan Train Hall is the accumulation of many artists using art as a verb. They were all thinking about the best way to go about doing things for the hall and put their ideas together via planning and whatever methods they may have used. The hall is the accumulation of all their actions. Actions include thinking. I half agree with Vito though. While his statement proves to be true through his explanation of art as a form of active thinking, I disagree that it is no longer a noun. The hall, or any work done, is the result of their actions. Take a house for example. A house is a noun, but the actions that led to the result of the house are verbs. Roofing, plumbing, electrical work, and other forms of labor are verbs that result into a final product of the house, which is a noun. By this logic, he is correct that art is a verb, but I would say that art can exist as both noun and verb.

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  8. I’d like to compare Vito Acconci’s quote to a saying that is profoundly similar: “art imitates life.” In order to make art, we must a humanistic connection to our surroundings. The art displayed inside the Moynihan Train Hall isn’t static, figuratively; it has a movement within the environment, just like how commuters interact with their surroundings in the Penn Station. The collaboration of artists bringing a new sense of arrival to the space, thus introducing a new “era” to the station. Personally, seeing art displays even in the most mundane places makes my visit more enjoyable and I’m sure any person who will travel through the Train Hall will appreciate their visit, even for just a second.

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  9. Moynihan Train Hall was a collaboration worth making and something that was needed! Without art, or at least public installations, then the world would seem less inspiring. It has been debated whether art is a necessary profession as most would argue that its contributions aren’t as big like the fields of medicine and science, but art contributes to the visual of people’s feelings in the outside world. Vito’s opinion is certainly a valid one, but maybe that’s because he values art the least than opposed to more traditionally practical things like medicine. The only way to convince the mass majority that art is needed would be to put it in people’s faces, but that would be annoying, so art has to stay subtle. An example would be using graphics of useful things, like bus schedules or ticket prices, where images would hinder the text. The point would be to show that art is still relevant but hinders the readability of said text. That would be pretty annoying huh? That’s why art is mainly subtle, it shows up in movie posters, in the logos of business buildings, and signs that are being spun by underpaid workers. The art helps elevate business without being in your face and proving most useful.

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  10. I would like to know more behind the context of Vito Acconci’s statement. Considering the limited text in Vito’s statement, I have a thought. The short answer is, I do believe art is a verb as well as a noun. How people interact with art, is what makes it a verb. In the context of Vito’s statement, I do not necessarily agree that is was not always a verb but then during his time it became a verb. I would argue that Moynihan Train Hall is a noun in the context of it being a building but it becomes a verb when it is interacted with. The strong feelings and emotion derived from Moynihan Train Hall elevate this building into good architecture and therefore three-dimensional art.

    The collaboration that took place in the planning of Moynihan Train Hall, in my opinion, should be done more often. This helps to develop functioning spaces that serve everyone in the community. The artist may bring a new perspective to a charrette that otherwise might have been overlooked. In that case other members of the community might also bring a different perspective that otherwise might have also been missed. In my opinion, the point behind getting lots of different groups of people is to create that sense of community for its intended application.

    Maybe what Vito Acconci meant was that now it has become a verb considering the coming together of different specialties to create art in the likes of Moynihan Train Hall.

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  11. I think the Moynihan Train Hall is a well received project that exemplifies the product of collaboration. The desire here was to reinvigorate commuters and passengers whom come to interact with the hustle and bustle of New York City. The Architects, Artist and Designers were able to accomplish a project that if both lifting and active. Vito has described Art as no longer being just a profession, but now rather a verb. The act of individuals moving through these spaces is one form of art. The light that changes throughout different times of day, emphasizes the architecture, and highlights movement. The commissioned pieces of art, has formed and adapted a piece of history rendered and inspired by Penn’s Station past. Sometimes de-design is needed to make much progressive and grand gestures.

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  12. Lizbeth Ramirez | Art 434

    I agree that Art is a sort of action. When I think of Art, I think of the conversations artists create because of it. In the case of the Moynihan Train Hall, it not only gave a new perspective to a space but it’s gonna serve as an inspiration for many. I truly believe that art isn’t just some thing. It’s an experience! It creates action for the artist and the viewer.

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  13. The collaboration with the creative community and within the de-design of the Moynihan Train Hall shows how art is changing and progressing with society. Moynihan Train Hall represents Acconci’s description of art becoming a verb rather than a noun, through the way art is now involved in the world. Art is actively evolving in simply the architecture around the world in buildings such as the Moynihan Train Hall. The reason why art is being described as a verb is from the idea that art is something we do. The collaboration of the artists, architects, designers, and everyone required to build the Hall is an example of how art has become a verb. Acconci’s statement that art is now a verb not a noun can be arguable in a couple ways. Art from his point of view is something that is a state, and a type of action happening. When typically art is seen as a noun, something that is identified and particular. Overall, the concept behind the idea of art being a verb is interesting and brings up many thoughtful questions.

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  14. By definition, a verb is defined as a word used to describe an action, state, or occurrence. I agree with Vito Acconi, in that art is now a verb instead of a noun; I believe that describing art as a verb makes us think about the influences of art to the public and its potential power from the rising demand of public art in current society. Likewise, I believe that de-design of Moynihan Train Hall is the result of cooperation between the artist and the public in dynamic (verb) form.

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  15. I absolutely loved what was talked about during this week’s powerpoints!! I was so interested in Wiley and Douglas’ intentions with their commissions, and I think that it is so great that two amazing, Black artists were commissioned to make pieces for the de-design of the Hall, especially during a time of so much civil unrest. One of my favorite parts to learn about was how Wiley emphasized that he wanted his audience to “recognize themselves” when they saw his ceiling installation. Representation like that is so important for young BIPOC creatives to see, and I’m glad that Wiley was given the opportunity to bring this into the new Hall.

    I also loved how in-depth Douglas got with directing and digitally manipulating the photographs he took for his commission. I feel like the leaders of this project could have easily decided to go the boring route and simply hang up photos of the original Penn Station and call it a day, but hiring Douglas is so much better and much more fitting for this day of age and for NYC. He encapsulated nostalgia and history in such a unique way. Also, the detail he put into his compositions and art direction of the photos he took was incredibly interesting to see, and I really hope to see them in-person one day.

    I also found myself viciously nodding in agreement at the point being made that artists should be hired as “thinkers” and not just simply “makers of objects.” It’s so incredibly true – nothing kills creativity more than when a client does not allow an artist to do what they think is right. I myself have felt so defeated and uninspired after having to cut down my creative ideas for a boring, bland corporate design, and I’m so glad that this was not the case for these two artists. I honestly think that there could not have been a better way to incorporate public art than to hire artists and give them full creative reign – because look what beautiful result became of it! I think that the collaboration that happened here was really beautiful and truly encapsulates the diversity and culture of New York City.

    In terms of the art as a verb debate, I think I would agree with Acconci. However, I feel as if Art has always been a verb, and is not something new. Anyone can make art, good or bad, and it will still be art. It doesn’t have to be a profession or a field of work – it never had to be in the first place – although it can be if someone chooses to go that route.

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  16. I agree with Acconci’s statement that Art is now a verb because it is about action. A noun is something defined, like a world in a dictionary. A verb may have a meaning but it incites an action into the noun. Art moves many other aspects and changes the way they are seen in the world. We could have a monotone typical train hall instead of one with intricate designs. Art is very broad and it is always changing.
    Personally, I am a fan of collaborations, especially if they mean to de-design a place because it gives me visual proof that those spaces can exist in a different way, like a sort of alternate dimension. It is the same place, the same name, but it looks different and sometimes bolder.

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  17. I believe that Vito Acconci’s statement that art is now a verb is in reference to the development of art over time both in terms of how artists design and how people interpret it. Most people still probably think of art in the usual form of illustrations, paintings, etc., but art has been developing in many forms such as through performance and digital art. The definition, process, and interpretation of art is also different for everyone, so it is pretty single minded to only view it as a noun and/or just the final work. An example reinforcing this is shown in the Moynihan Train Hall de-design of the Penn Station. People from fields such as performance and architecture joined together in order to recreate the experience of the 1914 blizzard. A combination of forms such as CG and photography are also used to capture historical scenes. It is easy to say that art is constantly evolving with works such as the Moynihan Train Hall, and to view art as just a noun is too narrow to encompass what is and has been developed over time.

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  18. I think that the Moynahan Trail Hall is a great example of artistic collaboration with the ultimate beneficiary being the citizens of New York City. All of the artists who participated in this project knew that the project would live many years beyond them, and this must have been energizing for the artists who were chosen to be a part of this project. In talking about art as a verb, I think that I can agree to some extent with this statement. It was only through action and dedication that this project was completed under the circumstances of Covid, and the art will serve a purpose beyond just aesthetics.

    Many of the artists that participated in this project knew that collaboration had to happen on many levels, and offer the citizens of New York City a place that they could be proud of. I think it is fantastic when people can appreciate the importance of the arts in bringing a community together and making everyone feel like they have a voice.

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  19. I agree with Vito Acconci that art is no longer a noun, but a verb. In the past art was something tangible, such as an oil painting or sculpture, but now art is more like an idea or even a mindset. In the 1960’s, performative art took off, and I think that was the start of art turning into a verb. To me, the difference between art and performance is that if there’s something left after the performance, then it’s art. If I were to apply this logic to the Moynihan Train Hall, then the process of de-designing Penn Station and collaborating with each other to create a space for the public to enjoy is in itself, art. Overall, I’m glad that art is now about bringing people together and creating ideas for everyone to enjoy.

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  20. What Vito Acconci said about art being a verb rather than a noun is something I completely understand. I think that as time goes on and as society advances, so does the definition of art. Art has always constantly changed forms and can be seen in basically everything nowadays. Art is no longer just a physical object; it can be an experience for the audience to go through. In a way though, hasn’t art been like that for a long time now? I feel that art has always been in a way a verb, we are just now noticing that it can be one as we age as a collective. De-designing Penn Station and having artists collaborate with one another to create this space for not only the people of New York City but for visitors as well, is in a way a form of art itself I believe.

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