Architecture, Art, And Design…Let’s Add Public Art To This Equation To Stir Up The Pot!

“It’s difficult to hold the world’s interest for more than half an hour at a time.” (Salvador Dali, Diary of a Genius, 1964

Elmgreen & Dragset received an important commission from the Public Art Fund to create a work of art, in this case, a sculptural installation, for weary travelers using the train rails along the Eastern Corridor arriving at or departing from Penn Station. Certainly not an easy task for any artist! Penn Station was identified for renovation as it was dreary, dank, depressing, and devoid of any positive energy when commuters arrived at this heavily used train station. Located in NYC, Penn Station needed to have an irresistible urban energy that spoke to, or at least reflected New YorCity’s urban energy!

Rail passengers and commuters had become institutionally corrupted by the noticeable framework of decay afflicting Penn Station since the mid 1960s! City planners, collaborating with Architects, artists, urban designers, and politicians, desired a space of arrival or demarcation that would be re-energize the millions of passengers whose weekly journeys took them to Penn Station. But, how do you re-energize a space that felt like time had passed on without remorse?

Elmgreen & Dragset were confident in their years of collaboration, coupled with the strong power relationship that had generated with the strong cadre of assistants in their Berlin studio, to research and explore their surreal, fantasy vision of New York City’s urban energy. Elmgreen & Dragset, with their studio assistants, developed the hanging image of over 100 tall buildings reaching down from the ceiling at the 31st Street doors of Penn Station to the commuters/passengers passing through the Moynihan Train Hall of Penn Station. The adaptive reuse of the light court within the James A. Farley Post Office was a brilliant solution to providing LIGHT and vast OPEN SPACE to weary travelers on Amtrak. Elmgreen & Dragset’s design for their commission was an equally brilliant solution that builds upon the vision of SOM and gives commuters/passengers a visual delight upon arrival at Penn Station. Biggest challenge, how do we get those traveling through to Look Up? How do two contemporary German artists get business commuters and tourists to pay attention to their surroundings when they are so focused on cell phone screens?

Do you think the Elmgreen & Dragset Hive hanging sculpture will draw attention from the general public moving through the Moynihan Train Hall of Penn Station? Or do you suspect Salvador Dali’s statement listed above will prevail?

Elmgreen & Dragset, Hive, 2020

Elmgreen & Dragset, Hive detail, 2020

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.

21 Comments

21 thoughts on “Architecture, Art, And Design…Let’s Add Public Art To This Equation To Stir Up The Pot!”

  1. Elmgreen and Dragset’s art piece in Penn Station will definitely draw local, if not nationwide, attention for being such an innovative piece of work. It’s surreal how the cityscape of different buildings, from all over the world, can also look like a beehive. And I liked the underlying message that the art installation had on how New York city is essentially the melting pot of the world, where cultures blend together in an interconnected network.
    Salvador Dali makes a great point of the difficulty in holding the world’s interest for more than half an hour at a time. With our generation’s decreasing attention span, from shorter and shorter videos like Tik Tok, it is becoming more of a reality. However, The Hive does provide so much life and light into the once dreary halls of Penn station. Even if a passenger has passed through it millions of times, it’d be difficult to not notice right away and admire.

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  2. The HIVE will bring attention, no question about it, because the artwork is something the general public normally doesn’t see when it comes to art. The way Elmgreen and Dragset designed this project is unique and amazing because it adds a sense of connection to other cities throughout the world. Not only do they show off their art skills but having NYC is the main focal point of the whole project because everybody is generally saying they need to visit New York, and those people come from all over the world. As for Dali’s quote, I believe that his quote makes a strong statement, especially in today’s world because everyone always seems to feel the need to constantly check their phones. Nonetheless, the HIVE brings out the best in art when it comes to bringing people to look up once in a while because of the style and lighting.

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  3. New York City is dubbed as the “concrete jungle”. With a skyline recognizable across the world, it has become the home for elevated design. Many of these high rise skyscrapers are influenced by NYC’s culture and its diversity. The HIVE commission captures how the city has evolved and continues to grow. The dimensional aspect of the piece, should prove to be a more dynamic approach at capturing the attention of by-passers. Like the SOM interpretation of light and open space, Hive communicates depth and stimulates a curiosity. Scale alone, can have an individual in awe. Though a large installation, it does not impose an enclosed or overwhelming space. Individuals such as tourist, will appreciate their arrival, as it previews what the city has to offer. Dali states “It’s difficult to hold the world’s interest for more than half an hour at a time.” With today’s current trend of being on the move, this may also be true. We don’t expect individuals to spend a great deal of time staring at a piece, but it’s the passive encounters that matter. They get a glimpse of the project and may find themselves looking it up. The next time around, they may make it a point to stop and take in the piece.

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  4. Personally, if it were me I DEFINITELY would have looked up by the sight of the upside down urban city! When it comes to the commuters in general, I believe Elmgreen and Dragset did do a good job creating that piece to have them look up. It is already appealing to the eye and what catches our eyes is the “abnormal.” I feel it is natural that we are attracted to seeing anything that may be out of place out of curiosity. This will definitely raise brows or even confusion at first asking the “hows.” For sure that’s what I’d be asking in terms of how did these artists create this and made it look upside down. Without holding back traffic I’d walk slower on purpose or take a small stop to try and take a look closely at the detail in each of the buildings. I’m really intrigued by cityscapes and how breathtaking some of them can be and this is exactly what it’s reminding me of as if it were an actual city I can see in real life just outside a window. Then again, depending on the person who will take the time to look up or not could also take into account those who even care to look in the first place. Our attention spans have been shortened which don’t even last that long anymore. Pretty sure we have technology to blame for that where people would rather watch a video summarized less than a minute or else some won’t even bother watching a video past 5 minutes.

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  5. Elmgreen & Dragset’s “Hive” piece is certainly one that can grab the attention of people. The way it catches light and reflects it attracts eyes to it, if only for a brief period. But that is all that is needed. As soon as it is noticed, the viewer will become entranced in the piece. wanting to understand it. Upside down buildings certainly do not follow the rules of the natural world, and not only is the viewer thinking about the piece in purely the physical space that it exists in, but in the type of world that it could exist in, essentially creating a story about the piece in their own head, taking them away from the real world and into fantasy.
    While I do think the piece will succeed to draw the attention of weary travelers, I also agree will Salvador Dali’s statement. I myself have a difficult time keeping my focus on a single thing at a time. Maybe I could reach 30 minutes if I am lucky, but the fact of the matter is that the piece only needs 30 minutes, if not less. In a busy day of traveling from station to station and work to home and whatnot, a single art piece that takes you on a journey will be more that enough to change your mood. For some, even a smile is enough to change their day, so an art piece that takes them away from their real life stresses is enough to change their mood for the day.

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  6. I see a lot of factors that you play in favor of the Elmgreen & Dragset statue at Penn Station. It is true that in a station people who do not know it tend to pay attention to the indications, and the locals more attentive to the mobile than to anything else, but the location is tactically very flattering, between the entrance and the stairs. Passengers who come from the stairs will pay attention (being able to see it), and on the other side, we have the entrance from the street, which also when crossing the doors usually pay attention. On the other hand, the fact that the work itself contains light already makes it striking, in addition to the clear message of light (and warmth) that radiates from the city. The refined and defined lines of the sculpture also speak of the iconic New York of the 50s and 60s that we all have in mind. It’s a great message that says, hey, you just arrived at THAT GREAT CITY that you know. Claim and remember what city it is. What better message can be transmitted to the arrival of a city?
    I think that this sculpture can be integrated into the taste of the city and that the locals feel that it speaks of them and that it is part of their spirit, which in the city of new york is very marked and unique. So there is no need to worry if the attention will be maintained or not for more than half an hour, since I predict that it will be incorporated into the popular image (not so much touristy of large buildings) of the locals as it is a Sunday afternoon in Central Park or the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

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  7. Elmgreen and Dragset’s Hive will certainly be something that will capture the attention of all that pass by it. It is very peculiar at first glance which encourages viewers to take a closer to look and decipher the piece exactly. Upon closer inspection, it looks like the city, so one might want to take a look at the buildings more and marvel at the gravity defying art. Picasso’s statement will be proven false here. Even if one person isn’t interested or quickly glances at it, there will always be more passing by to figure out what is hanging from the ceiling. Granted, it is in the middle of foot traffic, but those with extra time and interest might go to the side to marvel at Hive.

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  8. Just like any other point of interest, their may be times when it will demand a great deal of focus from some and other times it may simply be overlooked. That statement in itself is not completely black and white by any means, it also has a lot of gray with all kinds of shades. Consider the Hive, it is new and with added buildup of anticipation due to the pandemic, it might attract more responsive eyes at first. More so, it might attract the attention of those same travelers consistently for a while before they finally stop their awing gaze. Just like any thing else, when it is readily available as in this new piece of art, a majestic tree near the road, or whatever, fill in the blank; over time individuals do not really notice it anymore rather it becomes part of the background. Then there may be those that simply cannot be bothered to look up because they are busy with screen to face meditation.

    In regard to Salvador Dali’s quote, it is my opinion that the Hive will never loose its focal point from all appreciative gaze, considering it is at the entrance/exit. Though, it may lose the attention of local commuters, people will still travel to New York just to visit unseen sights and consequently someone will more than likely look up at the Hive too long and block the path of a local commuter rushing to reach their destination, prompting them to look up.

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  9. I would say that I am a bit in-between on whether or not I believe that Dali’s quote reigns true in the case of Elmgreen & Dragset’s installation.

    I believe that the Hive installation will gain a lot of attention from those who encounter it at Penn Station because it is undeniably a unique, bold, and whimsical piece of artwork that nott only encapsulates New York so well but also serves as symbolism for the refresh and remodeling of the station to fit a more modern age. Therefore, I could see this installation being something that will undeniably catch the attention of tourists and first-time visitors.

    However, on the other hand, I do think that it will just be a quick glance and appreciation from the majority of those passing through Penn Station. I believe that with how fast-paced and busy most people at the station are, it will not catch the attention of most for more than a few seconds or minutes. Most people are there to commute to work/school/home/etc. and, like mentioned, will be busy looking down at their phones, maps, etc. to even think about looking up. The Hive installation is also placed in an area of high traffic, so there isn’t much time to sit and thoroughly take in the art. Although tough to admit, I would predict that most passerbys would see the installation, think, “that’s really cool!” for a quick second, then get back to looking down at their devices or towards wherever they are walking. I would have personally loved to see this installation placed in an area with more seating – like a waiting area – so that those sitting and waiting for their commute can look up as they sit to admire the installation as they pass the time.

    However, I wouldn’t say that this is a bad thing, and none of this means that the Hive installation itself is bad. Certain forms of art are just interpreted in different ways depending on the context and environment. For instance, this installation would gain a different amount of attention if installed in the MET. I think that the idea of audiences only giving a quick-glance of appreciation is just what’s appropriate for the environment that this installation is in, and that is completely okay.

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  10. I do believe that Hive from Elmgreen & Drag will draw the attention from the general public because of how unique it is, at least initially. I would say it would be very difficult to not notice it due to how fascinating it is, most people would not expect to see something like this and the amount of detail that went into the art piece is captivating. Personally, I would want to see how unique each part of the piece is.
    However, I say initially and agree with Salvador Dali’s statement because I do feel that, while the piece is amazing, most people would be captivated by it in the beginning and move on with their life. People in general are more preoccupied with stuff like their phones and social media on the move nowadays so it would be difficult to attract their attention aside from their initial view of it. People’s attention spans and interest are getting shorter, and as people constantly move through this area everyday, they may simply see it as another piece in the surrounding. However, maybe the initial appreciation and captivation of the art piece is more than enough, especially since this is placed in an area where people are constantly commuting. If it can constantly capture the attention of people every day even briefly, I would say that it has worked out well.

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  11. Elmgreen & Dragset’s “HIVE” piece will most definitely capture the attention of those who pass by. This piece is placed in an area that is sure to have commuters look up and admire all of the work that went into creating it. There is immense detail in the way New York skylines are depicted and the surreal encapsulation of the city from the eyes of the artists is mesmerizing; audiences are sure to enjoy and appreciate the craftsmanship placed into this project on the daily. However, because of the busy lifestyle many tend to have when living in a fast-paced city like New York, Dali’s quote may appear to be true in which not many will stop to look at this piece for longer than a small period of time. Nevertheless, that does not mean citizens will not admire this piece and appreciate the effort that went in to creating such a unique installation.

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  12. Lizbeth Ramirez | Art 434

    In a world where technology, in this case, cell phones, has taken over, I do believe there’s a hope that these travelers will look up and notice the Hive hanging sculpture. Especially in today’s time, I feel like many people are starting to pay attention to the little things. Maybe it had to do with being stuck inside for a couple of months, but now a majority of the general public wants to experience something. So as simple as a work of public art, I think it would grab people’s attention and perhaps even encourage them to snap a picture and post it to their social media accounts. Dali’s statement though has some truth to it because although there is no more need for an experience, people are still quick to hop back on their phones and get lost in them again. In the end, it just all depends on the viewer. Speaking for myself, It would for sure grab my attention. It’s something new to appreciate.

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  13. Definitely, the Hive will draw attention, however, Dali’s statement prevails. The artwork on the ceiling is mesmerizing and such fine details make it look like a real upside-down little city. For sure any art-lover will be delighted by such an art piece, but if we are talking about the public in general, the behavior towards art can be predicted by the way people usually interact with art in museums or exhibitions. People do not spend long looking at an art piece, not even in a space meant only for artworks, such as the ones mentioned previously. People on average spend around 15 seconds looking at a piece in those scenarios, which makes me think that in a space of more distractions and meant to be for transit, it will probably be only a few seconds. Also, I do believe many people would miss it because of technology and their agitated New York life, which would have them looking forward towards their goal instead of looking around. Besides all of these points, I believe it’s a piece worth making, and either it is noticed or not, it complements the rest of the environment, which does have a more practical function, such as being an open space. New York transit is famous for being crowded, so it does make a difference. I would have to visit and experience it personally to give a more accurate analysis.

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  14. It is really interesting to estimate the lasting effect of “Hive” on commuters and tourists that walk underneath it. It is a super busy and congested composition visually, but it is so high in the air that it could potentially just become decoration. The art isn’t physically confronting people by taking up space that they have to navigate around, it’s set up in the ceiling, out of the way of the hustle and bustle of the traffic of moving bodies. Works like Richard Serra’s “Titled Arc” have a much more visceral affect on the people that interact with it regularly; in fact, it was removed from its site due to complaints from the commuters that walked by it each day. Maybe the precedence of public reactions to sculptures like “Tilted Arc” informed the decision to install “Hive” high up in the ceiling. It makes me wonder if there are many opportunities for curious viewers to stop and stare up at the installation without being trampled by the flow of train passengers, or if this piece is deemed by laymen to be a work of art on its own or rather that it is decoration for the architecture of the train hall.

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  15. Elmgreen & Dragset’s installation in the Moynihan Train Hall was a huge accomplishment and success for the duo of artists. I can relate to the Dali quote where he speaks about it being difficult to retain the attention of your audience. For me as an artist, I have found that the most important thing to try to accomplish is captivating the viewer and have them keep eyes on your work. In the case of this piece of art that hangs upside down above everyone’s head, getting their attention could be tricky. But I think one of the interesting things about the train hall is the art, and I think there will be many people who will be aware of all the different art that is present at the station and actively look for it. It seems pretty noticeable too from what I can tell from the pictures. Plus, I think people around you would be looking at it, which would catch your attention and make you look as well. I think this is a general concern for most artists, if their work is visible or eye catching, but the sheer size of this piece I think makes it very noticeable.

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  16. In the world where people are moving fast-forward and technology (smartphones) have taken over, I believe that Elmgreen and Dragset’s Hive will draw strong attention to the general public. If we were to just think about where the installation is taken place, it is a place where people, either alone or grouped, are walking fast, ignoring what they can enjoy within the space and time. The hive is installed three-dimensional on top of the ceiling as if the city is welcoming the public. Generally speaking, I believe the Hive will help the public stand in the space for a second and enjoy where they are, stop texting on their phones, and start taking pictures. Although this act of taking pictures may not seem to be ideal to enjoy a great art like the Hive, I believe it’s a great way to bring the public into art. Also, the Hive is an installation of a big city in a relatively smaller place (Penn Station), which bring opportunity to the public to break their concept of their own space.

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  17. While it’s easy to say that the hanging sculpture made by Elmgreen & Dragset would most certainly grab people’s attention, I think that Salvador Dali’s statement will prevail. Portable devices and busy schedules make it difficult for people to notice their surroundings, especially if it’s crowded and you just want to go home. However, I don’t think this is a bad thing. If someone takes the same route through the Moynihan Train Hall every day and doesn’t notice the sculpture for a long time, imagine what happens when they do; they’d gasp and then admire the piece that they never noticed before. Even if the effects are delayed, I don’t see why art always has to grab the attention of people immediately- just like novels of writers who’ve passed away already, I think art can be appreciated any time, and the value will still hold.

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  18. Although the Hive installation is very unique and clever, I do not think that it would grasp the attention of passersby for too long. The piece captures the sense of New York very well, but I believe that the quick and on-the-go lifestyle of many people that commute at Penn Station would lead the art installation to soon be something that would be quickly smothered over. Those that would have the time to appreciate the art piece would obviously take a bit more time out of their day to take in the piece, but many are just living their daily lives commuting the city by traveling from station to station. Most would probably notice the huge piece hanging from the ceiling and think, “Oh, that’s cool!” and would then go on continuing with their day, without having a second thought about the piece. If the art installation were placed somewhere that had less foot-traffic or maybe had a different environment all together, it would be a lot more successful. The piece reminds me of the Glass Ceiling that is located at the Bellagio’s lobby. I remember when it was first introduced, many people were saying that it was something incredible and entirely unique, but as time went on, it just became something that is “just there” I suppose. I think that Dali’s quote still prevails in the end because society has been on autopilot as a collective and that although it is getting harder to maintain the attention of society, there are other ways and techniques that would need to be applied to grasp attention.

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  19. I would like to say that people would take a second to admire this incredible work of art, but unfortunately I would have to agree with Salvador Dali’s quote. In todays world, everyone is in a hurry and dont have time to stop and admire a piece of art. They may take a few seconds to look at the piece as they are walking, but they wont be able to stop and appreciate the detail and time that Elmgreen & Dragset took into making this piece of art. However, if this piece was in a museum then I think it would be a different story. They would see how beautiful the design is. How the artists put such detailed windows in each of the buildings. Probably recognizing that it is a bunch of buildings hanging from the ceiling and not just a bunch of shapes. But since it is in a very busy train station where everyone is rushing to be somewhere, I think the work remains unappreciated. Which is truly a shame because this piece is absolutely incredible.

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  20. As much as I wish the general public would admire this work, I think Dali’s statement is going to prevail yet again. Beautiful as it may be, Hive is in a location that doesn’t force the viewer to look at it for more than a passing glance. This piece is in a train station. People are coming and going as fast as possible, and almost no one would be able to even stop to see this work if the station was crowded that day. Just from my own experience, I know that I look down when I walk to make sure I don’t step on anything or to check my phone. Rarely if ever do I look at the ceiling while walking. If there were seats beneath it, I think this sculpture would draw slightly more attention. Since there isn’t however, I think that Dali’s statement will ring true.

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  21. Although I believe the Elmgreen & Dragset Hive hanging sculpture will draw attention from the general public in the Moynihan Train Hall and Penn Station I can see what Salvador is stating/ Salvadors statement of people’s short attention plans I feel accurately represents people now. Maybe not to the extent of only focussing for thirty minutes as he stated. Unfortunately, I suspect Salvador Dali’s statement will prevail in just a few years. I feel as though people will be more interested and drawn to the hanging sculpture for some time. But as people adjust to the hanging sculpture it will eventually become a normal part of the building drawing little interest in returning people’s visits to Penn Station. A few years from now some newcomers may awe and oh for a few minutes but forget about it once they leave the stations or return to their daily lives. There’s no question as to whether the hanging sculpture will draw attention more rather the question is for how long. Once people become adjusted to their surroundings it will blend into their normal lives. SInce we tend to forget to enjoy the beauty around us.

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