Volume 17 • Issue 23 | Oct. 29 - Nov. 4, 2004

Downtown Express photos by Elisabeth Robert

Digital walkers, above, near the restored Tweed Courthouse steps are part of Julian Opie’s new exhibit in City Hall Park.

Modern art for landmark building and park


The Tweed Courthouse, an historic landmark on Chambers Street, has impressed passersby with its Victorian steps, Corinthian columns, and marble cornices ever since its $85 million restoration in 1999. But on Wednesday, people were struck by a digital addition.

The courthouse, which houses the Department of Education, now sports two digital screens flanking its main steps, with each screen displaying an androgynous person in incessant motion.

“The walking people are kind of eerie,” said a courthouse visitor, Josh, who declined to give his last name. “It’s like a treadmill that never stops — it’s uncomfortable to watch.”

“I like it, but it’s definitely strange,” he added.

The digital screens are part of an exhibition of 14 sculptures by British artist Julian Opie, presented by the Public Art Fund. Titled “Animals, Buildings, Cars and People,” the exhibition showcasing Opie’s representations of animals, everyday objects and ordinary people will pepper City Hall Park, adjacent to the Tweed Courthouse, until Oct. 14, 2005.

“It’s very New Yorkish,” said Gary Miller, who lives close to City Hall and enjoys sitting in the park.

Opie’s minimalist art panels and block sculptures, rendered in his signature linear style, belong to the abstract art genre that some find hard to comprehend.

“I didn’t know what it was,” said another observer, Dave Ranegan, as he sat on the steps of the Tweed Courthouse, sandwiched between the two digital screens. “I thought it was calculating the speed of people walking by.”

Opie, 46, has exhibited his work all over the world, but this is his first solo show in the United States. His works have an elementary feel to them, striking some onlookers as magnified versions of children’s playthings.

“I have little ones like these at home,” said Jeffrey Newman, who works near City Hall, as he gazed at “Sheep Cow Deer Dog Chicken Cat Goat,” a cluster of wooden animals that Opie created in 1997. “It’s whimsical — I think it’s nice,” he added.

However, not everyone is impressed with the show. “Whatever floats your boat, you know,” said a City Hall employee, who asked to remain anonymous, throwing up her arms in the air. “I want to know how many miles that thing walks everyday,” she said, pointing at Opie’s digital screens. “I’ll say it’s ‘unique’ because I don’t want to lose my job.”

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