Art vs. bikes. Parks Dept. quietly backs Soho protesters

Downtown Express photo by Tequila Minsky Standing behind racks of parked Citi Bikes, protesters held cards spelling “ART IN PETROSINO PARK.” Council hopeful Jenifer Rajkumar held the “R.”

Downtown Express photo by Tequila Minsky
Standing behind racks of parked Citi Bikes, protesters held cards spelling “ART IN PETROSINO PARK.” Council hopeful Jenifer Rajkumar held the “R.”

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON   |  A vocal core of residents around Soho’s Petrosino Square are protesting the siting of a new Citi Bike docking station on the triangular island’s northern end, saying it has “usurped” a spot traditionally used for public art displays.

Indeed, the spot, formerly known as Kenmare Square, has been home to public art since 1984, when a Lower Manhattan Cultural Council-sponsored installation, Lisa Hoke’s “Molecular Motion,” first graced it.

Other notable works included Stephen Whisler’s monolithic “Tongue of Fire,” in 1985; Rudolph Serra’s unnamed white, ball-like piece perched between the square’s entrance piers in 1988; “Let Them Die in the Streets,” a series of signs about the AIDS crisis and homelessness ringing the square’s fence by the ACT UP artists collective Gran Fury, in 1990; and Minsuk Cho’s 2007 “Ring Dome,” constructed of white hula hoops.

In 1987, the park within the square was renamed for New York police Lieutenant Joseph Petrosino (1860-1909), who was a pioneer in the fight against the mafia.

Other works in the triangle, at Spring and Lafayette Sts., have included pieces sponsored by Storefront for Art and Architecture, such as Nancy Hwang’s “S: An Urban Oasis,” in 2002, in which people could get their hair cut underneath potted palm trees; and Kim Holleman’s “A Park in a Trailer in a Park,” 2006, featuring a trailer with a park constructed inside it.

From 2008 to 2011 Petrosino Square was closed for renovation. After it reopened, public art exhibits continued in the open space at its northern corner, including Carole Feuerman’s “Survival of Serena,” from May to September 2012; and Jessica Feldman’s “The Glass Sea,” from October to November 2012.

The latest public artwork, installed last month by the Parks Department and running through September, is Tracey Emin’s “Roman Standard.” But this last piece, critics say, is not in the art-installation space taken over by Citi Bike, but rather in a green, planted area inside the fenced-in park.

“Greenery had to be taken up to accommodate the large steel plate to which this artwork is anchored, which demonstrates in itself why we need the installation space,” said Georgette Fleischer, founder of Friends of Petrosino Square.

petro,-serena

Minsuk Cho’s 2007 “Ring Dome,” in Petrosino Sq., left. Carole Feuerman’s “Survival of Serena,” May – Sept. 2012.

petro,-ring-dome

Images of the public artworks were provided by Fleischer, fellow Soho activist Pete Davies and, in some cases, by the artists themselves. Davies noted that the L.M.C.C. Web site states that 30 years’ worth of archives held in the organization’s offices at the World Trade Center were destroyed on 9/11.

“So, much of their record may have been lost,” he said. The  Parks Department did not provide images of the 30-plus years of art displays in Petrosino Square, but according to e-mails forwarded by Fleischer, agency officials clearly understand the historic role of public art in the square.

After Fleischer reached out via e-mail to Christopher Crowley, a designer with Parks, to convey the community’s concerns, Crowley, in turn, e-mailed Steve Simon, Parks chief of staff, on April 5, saying, “Hi Steve, Georgette is right. There was a lot of effort during the design phase to preserve the front triangle of Petrosino for art display. This is why there is a lack of green in this area.”

Less than an hour later, Simon e-mailed Colleen Chattergoon, community liaison for Margaret Forgione, Manhattan borough commissioner of the Department of Transportation, regarding the community opposition to a bike-share rack at Petrosino Square:

“Colleen: Please let D.O.T. Borough Commissioner Forgione and the Director of Bike-Share know that Manhattan Parks Commissioner Bill Castro agrees that this is not an appropriate location for a bike station.”

Spread the word:

13 Responses to Art vs. bikes. Parks Dept. quietly backs Soho protesters

  1. ” There was a lot of effort during the design phase to preserve the front triangle of Petrosino for art display. This is why there is a lack of green in this area.”
    “Please let D.O.T. Borough Commissioner Forgione and the Director of Bike-Share know that Manhattan Parks Commissioner Bill Castro agrees that this is not an appropriate location for a bike station.”

    What’s the problem with these philistines?
    Why can’t D.O.T. just move CitiBank’s bike station into the street?

  2. I am eternally grateful for real journalism as it is practiced in this article. The New York Times has suppressed the reporting of the local residents' impassioned protests to restore the Lt. Petrosino Square Park to its former glory as a peaceful neighborhood pedestrian way with rotating sculptural. Tourists loved our first installation after the renovation, pictured above. BTW, no one has ever taken a trip to a city or country in order to see bike racks. A popular destination for artist/tourists from Australia and New Zealand is my drawing studio. Not to mention all of the students who come to New York from all over the world to get degrees from universities and spend time during and afterwards at my studio, and , of course, at a handful of other drawing sites. It is not a battle over whether you like art or bikes. A city is great because the people within respect the accomplishments of all the souls who have contributed to its intellectual and artistic life. Without respect for the past, a city becomes degraded. Thank you

  3. Lora Tenenbaum

    The Villager seems to be the only newspaper who actually gets it that the coalition of groups and individuals protesting the placement of the bike dock station in Petrosino Square have just a simple message: bike parking should not usurp art and certainly should not alienate parkland to do so. Our petition now has over 550 signatories…many of whom were using bike share bikes at the time they signed the petition. We are simply asking that the bike share station currently placed in public parkland be moved just feet away, into the street. If the DOT did that, we'd all be winners.

  4. Hmm, public art thats a complete waste of money and hideous eyesore meant by the clueless artist to provoke anxiety, or a useful centrally located bike share station? Thats an easy choice. Maybe if “public art” didnt suck. And in the current state of contemporary art whats to say a bike station isnt art?

    • One of the DOT's missions is to create open plazas that also display public art, hopefully by also taking out parking and driving lanes to do so. The DOT recognizes the need for this amenity in the City. That was exactly what had been done in Petrosino Square, at the request of the very people you are attempting to marginalize here. Well, there is space for the bike station across the street, in the street, with an opportunity to take out more car parking spaces. In contrast, there is no place for open plaza and art except right there in the park.

    • Churlish comments like yours are why cycling extremists are so reviled by most NYers. You’re entitled to your opinion, but even troglodytes appreciated public art.

      However, what can we expect from someone whose artistic criticism sinks to the level of saying public art “sucks”.
      Your comment alone should be reason enough for D.O.T. to restore the art space, rather than be aligned with someone of such questionable taste.

    • This bike station would be just as centrally located and even more useful if DOT were to move it out of Petrosino Square and relocate it to the roadbed across the street.

  5. I think art space is important and I think the people protesting this station placement have some good points. However, I object to the misuse of the terms “bike parking” and “bike rack.” We are not talking about a place to lock a pesonal bike (though these are also lacking), but rather a public use transit station. This is a case of public art losing out to public transit, not art losing out to bikes. I want to support public art, I just don’t want to bash bikes to do it.

    • Lora Tenenbaum

      I in no way intended to denigrate the bike share program, which I generally support. However, these "transit use stations" do not belong in parks, which are not generally known as transportation hubs. After all, one doesn't see city bus depots placed in parks, right?

  6. Playing with semantics and denying the facts doesn't address the situation: DOT chose to place a large bike parking station with 30+ "docks" (aka a big bike rack) in the middle of a public park.

    The Friends of Petrosino Square and many others are not bashing bikes. We support the bike share program when implemented properly. We're simply asking DOT to relocate the bikes to a nearby spot in the roadbed outside our little public park.

    DOT should move the bike station and return to the community the full park area at Petrosino so that space can be used in the way it was intended when $2.07 million was allocated to the NYC Department of Parks to create an expanded Petrosino Square with open space for the display of public art.

  7. The Friends of Petrosino Square make a strong case for moving the Citibike station a few feet out of a park and into the street. It seems an easy enough problem to fix. So hope this will be resolved soon.

    • Yes, it is a very simple fix the community has been proposing to DOT: simply move the bikes onto the roadbed of Lafayette Street. There are loads of bike stations on the road bed. Why not here? Why is DOT being so stubborn?

  8. Lawrence White

    Perhaps the artists could paint the bikes. A gallery on wheels.

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