THROWBACK THURSDAY: High Line Art’s Greatest Hits

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This week’s feature: the High Line’s very first art commission, Spencer Finch’s The River that Flows Both Ways.

Last week we took you on a virtual visit to see Valerie Hegarty’s 2009 installation on the High Line, Autumn on the Hudson Valley with Branches. This week, we are taking you to revisit Spencer Finch’s installation inspired by the Hudson River, The River That Flows Both Ways. Like the High Line’s original railroad tracks, the river is an entrenched character in the city’s identity, history, and legacy. First installed on the High Line in 2009, Finch’s work documents a 700-minute (11 hours, 40 minutes) journey on the river in a single day. The name of the project is a translation of Muhheakantuck, the Native American name for the Hudson that refers to the river’s natural flow in two directions.

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From a tugboat drifting on Manhattan’s west side and past the High Line, Finch photographed the river’s surface once every minute. The color of each pane of glass was based on a single pixel point in each photograph and arranged chronologically in the tunnel’s existing steel mullions. Time is translated into a grid, reading from left to right and top to bottom, capturing the varied reflective and translucent conditions of the water’s surface. The work, like the river, is experienced differently depending on the light levels and atmospheric conditions of the site. In this narrative orientation, the glass reveals Finch’s impossible quest for the color of water.

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Themes of nature, society, industrialization; ruminations on light, color, perception, and memory; these are undercurrents running throughout Finch’s career. In 2007, Finch sat down with curator Susan Cross to discuss his work, identifying what makes him tick and where his interests lie. “There’s a line from Freud where he talks about Kant, who said that there were two things—a moral thing and a natural thing—that continued to amaze him: the night sky and the goodness in the hearts of men,” Finch explained. “Freud was very dismissive, and said, “Oh yes, the night sky is quite beautiful.” I think it’s those two things, the idea of images that can straddle the space between abstraction and representation, and then also subject matter, that produces a sense of wonder and approaches this idea of the sublime.” It’s no surprise he went on to tackle the Hudson for the High Line!

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Finch’s installation was the first artwork to be installed along the High Line, and was presented in partnership with Creative Time, as well as the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. Take a look at Creative Time’s beautiful project page on Finch for press, images of the work in progress, and much more about The River That Flows Both Ways. Happy Thursday!!

- Sophia Merkin

Spencer Finch, The River That Flows Both Ways, 2009. Photo by David B. Smith. | Additional images courtesy of Creative Time