Articles

Three Important Manhattan Public Artworks That Often Go Overlooked

Maya Lin, "Eclipsed Time" (1994) (courtesy MTA Arts & Design)
Maya Lin, “Eclipsed Time” (1994) (courtesy MTA Arts & Design)

Art can transform a city experience even if we don’t realize it. In Manhattan, where colorful murals and towering sculptures abound, there are also those public artworks that quietly wait to be discovered. Here are three you may have walked by and never noticed as they subtly alter the urban landscape.

Maya Lin, “Eclipsed Time” (1994)

Penn Station, Midtown West, Manhattan

If you look up in the busy corridor of the Long Island Rail Road’s concourse in Penn Station, you’ll see a dark disk sandblasted with numbers, slowly moving. Maya Lin‘s “Eclipsed Time” was installed in 1994 as a sort of clock: each day the disk moves from east to west to eclipse the circular light above, aligning at midnight. Like much of Penn Station, it was covered in grime over the years, and its light eventually went out, making it even more unnoticeable. However, as Michelle Young reported at Untapped Cities, the sculpture was recently illuminated once more. Now “Eclipsed Time” can again work as a kind of primordial timepiece, moving slowly amid commuter traffic.

View to Maya Lin's installation in Penn Station (photo by Amanjeev, via Flickr)
View of Maya Lin’s “Eclipsed Time” in Penn Station (photo by Amanjeev/Flickr)

Alan Sonfist, “Time Landscape” (1978)

La Guardia Place & West Houston Street, Greenwich Village, Manhattan 

"Time Landscape" by Alan Sonfist (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
“Time Landscape” by Alan Sonfist (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

What appears to be just another pocket park in Greenwich Village is actually a small time capsule of precolonial Manhattan. “Time Landscape” by Alan Sonfist was completed in 1978, with different plantings of native trees, flowers, and wild grasses representing the ecology of the island before the Dutch arrived in the 17th century. The land artist collaborated with the local community and thoroughly researched the city’s botanical history, including in the installation three stages of forest growth with oaks, junipers, maples, hickories, and other trees. It’s still maintained by the Greenstreets program, with a parks sign stating “Time Landscape” on the encircling fence.

"Time Landscape" archival view (photo by Alan Sonfist, via Wikimedia)
“Time Landscape” archival view (photo by Alan Sonfist, via Wikimedia)

Max Neuhaus, “Times Square” (1997/2002)

Broadway between W 45th & 46th Streets, Times Square, Manhattan

Times Square at night (photo by Vincent Desjardins, via Flickr)
Times Square at night (photo by Vincent Desjardins/Flickr)

On the pedestrian island on Broadway between West 45th and 46th Streets, in the frenetic chaos of Times Square, a droning, harmonic noise beneath a grate is the only hint of the artwork installed below. No labeling marks “Times Square” by Max Neuhaus, sometimes nicknamed the “Times Square Hum” and managed by the Dia Art Foundation. The piece was initially installed from 1977 to 1992, then returned in 2002. Unfortunately, the Dia site explains that the sound installation is currently offline due to construction. When it returns, like the other two artworks on this list, it will once again covertly transform a seemingly unremarkable corner of the city.

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