Once again, there’s free art on Broadway for the unwashed masses. The Broadway Mall Association has organized a public art exhibition called Saint Clair Cemin on Broadway in collaboration with Chelsea-based Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York City’s Department of Parks and Recreation and the New York City Department of Transportation. For anyone not inclined to toss so much as a single solitary toenail clipping inside a museum or an art gallery, for five subway stops in Manhattan between West 57th and West 157th Streets, you can easily find yourself gobsmacked with one of seven sculptures created by the Brazilian-born artist Saint Clair Cemin who has a studio in Brooklyn.
The first Cemin piece that caught my eye I noticed one evening in late August when I exited my go-to 72nd and Broadway subway stop on the West 73rd Street side. It was a mirrored stainless steel object that brought to mind a drafting table. This prompted me to think “WTF?” It was too dark for me to take a good photograph of it, but a few weeks later, while heading into that same subway station, I noticed that it had been relocated closer to 72nd Street. I hit the brakes on my Jack Purcell sneakers, reversed course and took a second look at that sculpture before catching a train heading down to The Grind. A sign had been added announcing that the piece is called Portrait of the Word “Why”.
Portrait of the Word “Why”, 2008, stainless steel
Frontal side view Portrait of the Word “Why” reflecting some cityscape.
Rear sideview Portrait of the Word “Why”
Others might look at this sculpture and modify its name to Portrait of the Words “Why Bother”. The piece had the opposite effect on me. It intrigued me so much I decided that I would forego my usual Saturday morning power sleep and check out the six other installations in daylight hours so early many of the denizens in this city that never sleeps were likely pounding their snooze buttons.
In my 100 block of travels up and down Broadway my quest was to determine if I might uncover any clues about what New Yorkers, when led to culture, think using my own weaknesses of observation.
I first inspected the sculpture on the south side of 72nd Street Cemin calls The Four.
The Four, 1997, corten steel
I think that New Yorkers think that they can use two of its sides to house their trash.
You had to stuff your napkin in there, really?
You could not walk ten feet to the nearest trash can?
I rode a 1 local train downtown to 59th Street Columbus Circle, and exited the 58th Street side where I encountered Vortex, a hammered stainless steel coil climbing 123 feet into the sky.
Vortex, 2008, hammered stainless steel
I looked up at it, semi-strained my neck and thought:
Me: Wow, that’s tall.
I highly doubt that it will be installed in any swell’s living room any time soon.
I walked four blocks north to the street divider at 62nd and Broadway where I saw a crouching figure called O Pensador that’s made from hammered copper.
O Pensador, 2008, hammered copper
O Pensador, sideview
O Pensador, rearview
It made me think of a wrinkled abstract Buddha and I felt immense relief that Cemin resisted producing a surreal sculpture of the prophet Muhammad.
At 66th Street I caught the uptown express to West 157th Street.
Pretty subway stop sign if you overlook the century of grime.
There, I observed a seven-foot tall dancing marble figure Cemin calls The Wind.
The Wind, 2002, marble
I think that others are referring to it as The Repository for Lost Keys.
Keys in The Wind.
Keys ready for their close-up.
Next, I caught a 1 local downtown and exited at 116th Street Columbia University. In the subway station, I saw a welded steel functional sculpture by Michelle Greene called Railrider’s Throne.
Columbia University 116th Street subway stop.
Railrider’s Throne, 1991, welded steel
How predictable that a woman would create art that is both aesthetically pleasing and actually useful.
Back outside, I walked a block north to 117th Street and inspected Cemin’s hammered copper sculpture called Aphrodite standing nearly eight feet tall.
Aphrodite, 2006, hammered copper
Me: Small breasts, big hips.
Afterward, I hopped onto another 1 local heading downtown and exited at West 79th Street where I observed In the Center, a fourteen and a half foot tall hydrocal (that’s a William F. Buckley way of saying plaster of Paris), wood and metal behemoth in a gaucho hat holding a divining rod.
In The Center, 2002, hydrocal, wood and metal
This sculpture reminded me of the strict Catholic clergy that were chasing the mischievous schoolboy, Guido, in Federico Fellini’s 8 ½. As much as part of me wanted to access my inner Guido and bolt from this monster, irrationally fearing that if it leaned forward it could impale me, the rest of me decided to relax and shoot these final images of this free exhibit that can be seen on the streets of Gotham City through mid-November.
Saint Clair Cemin on Broadway