Prior to the redevelopment of the High Line railway into a park, it lay abandoned and unused for decades. But not completely abandoned. Determined artists used the area not only as a canvas for graffiti, but as a sculpture garden. At least one anonymous artist welded metal sculptures, seen in the photos above, and left them bolted onto concrete walls in the Chelsea Market tunnel. Some enterprising residents who lived directly adjacent to the park planted gardens in the rail bed outside their window, providing electricity and water for the plantings, and a welcome sign for any who happened by.
Friends of The High line have since restored a large portion of the railway to a bountiful and lush garden, a public park now open to all. The Chelsea Market tunnel now seems bare in comparison, but does have a coffee cart. Any vestiges of urban grit that used to inhabit the High Line has been removed, including most of the graffiti. This has been an ongoing concern for some. Just yesterday, the New York Times reported on these issues, noting what graffiti was up there "has been almost completely erased."
Left unmentioned in these reports is any talk of the metal sculptures. In 2005, New York City took ownership of the High Line from CSX Transportation, Inc from Gansevoort Street to 30th Street. In 2006 when the photos here were taken, the sculptures were still there; by default public property. The sculptures were left anonymously, an anonymous gift from an artist to residents of NYC. It's possible they were created by REVS, a well know graffiti artist whose work is visible from the High Line. During the beginning of this decade, he started leaving metal sculptures around the city, though the pieces on the High Line have never been identified as such by street art afficanodos.
Curious about what happened to these sculptures, NYC The Blog sent Friends of The High Line an email on Sep 16 of this year. Initially concerned about a REVS sculpture that may or may not have existed, the query expanded to include questions about all the sculptures, and other public property left on the High Line, including a number of old subway turnstiles.
Salmaan Khan at Friends of The High Lline told NYC The Blog via email that they didn't know about any REVS sculptures:
...but the sculptures that were attached to the High Line in the Chelsea Market tunnel have since been lost. They were stored for a time at 820 Washington Street, at the Southern terminus of the High Line, but the building they were being stored in has since been demolished, presumably along with the sculptures. We were never able to find out the name of the artist, so they were never contacted. That art piece led an interesting life!In a follow up email, FOTH explained they lost track of the sculptures after the construction company moved them, "at some point in between all the construction, demolition and movement of everything on the High Line." It was left unclear who stored them at 820 Washington and under what pretense (presumably to keep them safe.)
Did the sculptures get destroyed? Maybe an enterprising volunteer with an eye for art or history is keeping them safe in their apartment? Whatever happened to them, it seems clear that we won't be seeing them in any of the public art displays FOTH have been hosting since opening the park.
It seems unfortunate to say the least. Friends of The Highline have touted the effort that went into The park to replicate the original flora, reuse original materials and incorporate public input. The railroad tracks for example were returned to their original locations and integrated into the planting beds. And the plantings were inspired by the landscape that developed on the tracks during the decades after the trains stopped running. So it seems puzzling and shortsighted that seemingly by design, FOHL excluded from these homages any reference to the High Line's last twenty years as a place for unsactioned public art.
But hey, check out those billboards.
All photos via Paolo Mastrangelo on Flickr.