Thursday, October 11, 2007

Neighborhood Sculptor Makes his Mark on Morningside

Neighborhood Sculptor Makes his Mark on Morningside
By Maggie Astor
It is hard to miss the statues that appeared in late September on the Barnard campus, in Morningside Park, and along the Broadway mall.
The human figures, constructed from distinctive layers of bluestone, are part of New York’s Art in the Parks program, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary with 40 temporary public art exhibits in and around parks in all five boroughs.
The Morningside works of art are the creations of Boaz Vaadia, an Israeli-born sculptor who has lived and worked in New York since 1975. Seven of his sculptures are on temporary display near Columbia: four in Morningside Park, two on the Broadway mall, and one just inside the Barnard gates.
“Placing them in that area is very interesting,” Vaadia said. “The boulders the figures are standing against are glacier boulders brought into the area in the Ice Age. Those are the boulders that helped form the island of Manhattan. It’s an ancient connection to nature.”
Vaadia’s unique sculpting style was inspired by seemingly banal circumstances.“When I moved into SoHo, they were ripping up sidewalks,” he said. “It was free material.”
The physical character of the bluestone led to Vaadia’s distinctive layering style—it is sedimentary rock, which forms layer by layer, over thousands of years.
“The recognition of the way the stone was formed in nature inspired my form of work,” he said.
Vaadia carves each layer of his sculptures by hand, then carefully arranges the stones, one on top of the other. The statues can stand on their own, and he cements the layers together with glue and rods only for purposes of “permanence and safety.”
“I don’t do anything that doesn’t balance by gravity,” he said.
According to Abigail Lootens, a spokeswoman for the New York City Parks and Recreation department, the 40 featured artists were chosen through two processes. Some artists contacted the department and filled out an application, while others were recommended by partner organizations.
In Vaadia’s case, an official at Barnard contacted him to propose a temporary exhibit of one of his statues. Shortly thereafter, Friends of Morningside Park and the Broadway Mall Association made similar requests. Parks and Recreation then suggested that the three exhibits be combined as part of Art in the Parks.
The statues will remain in the area through January 7, 2008.“Today our parks function as open-air museums, and we are proud to have provided a home for so many works over the past 40 years,” Parks and Recreation commissioner Adrian Benepe said, as quoted in a recent press release. “We are excited about bringing a bit of culture to the everyday lives of New Yorkers, and hope they will enjoy this record number of opportunities to interact with art in the parks.”
Vaadia was present when his sculptures were set up in Morningside Heights. “We had kids that just loved it—they climbed on it and hugged it,” he said. “I love to see how kids get attracted to it in a physical way.”Ultimately, “It’s for the public to enjoy,” he said. “I hope it awakens this primal connection to nature ... It’s fun to share my work with the city and the people of Columbia.”
Maggie Astor can be reached at

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