The gigantism trend in public art is apparently inexhaustible. This summer, New York City has a giant clump of clay in Midtown, a giant head in Tribeca, a giant speech bubble in Brooklyn, and giant bagels in downtown Manhattan. The latter, a project by the Swedish artist Hanna Liden, organized by the Art Production Fund, and titled Everything, is installed at three sites spread between the West and East Villages: Hudson River Park, the triangular plaza at Sixth Avenue and 9th Street, and the flagship location of the Kiehl’s skin care product store. The official social media hashtag for the show is #KiehlsxEverythingArt. Can you guess who sponsored the exhibition?
Granted, conspicuous corporate support of major art institutions and exhibitions is increasingly common. Volkswagen branding was ubiquitous in the Museum of Modern Art’s recent Björk exhibition, H&M’s support of the Whitney Museum’s Jeff Koons retrospective included synergistic merchandising, and Tate’s sponsorship deal with BP is well known and regularly protested. But Liden’s Kiehl’s-funded show of bagel stacks lays it on extra thick, complete with a branded hashtag and an exhibition that leads you, like a trail of crumbs through the urban forest, straight to Kiehl’s. Tellingly, the solitary, giant bagel on view in the skin care product store is not included as part of the exhibition on the Art Production Fund’s website, which only lists two sites. But signage in Ruth Wittenberg Plaza at the intersection of Sixth Avenue and 9th Street makes clear that this is a three-part show. Advertising has already infiltrated virtually every pore of urban space — is it too much to ask that public art remain free of corporate branding?
#KiehlsxEverythingArt notwithstanding, the bagel stacks are nevertheless underwhelming. The two tallest have giant tulips protruding from them and are based on a photo from Liden’s 2014 series I hope these ruin a perfectly bad day, which featured still lifes of a variety of found objects — from a boot to a half-drunk Corona — being used as flower vases. She spray painted some of the objects in the photo series black, including the bagel tulip vase, which, when translated to monumental scale for Everything, makes the sculptures look like they’ve been preemptively vandalized, lending a goth edge to these cheery photo opportunities. The results recall other giant-versions-of-household-objects statuary by the likes of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen or Isa Genzken, but also the dreaded CowParade craze. Liden considers the bagel a quintessential symbol not only of urban life in general (“the bagel — a circle with no beginning and no end — is evocative of the eternal cycle of city life,” she said), but of New York specifically, and it’s frightfully easy to picture stacks on stacks of giant, artist-customized bagels lining the city’s streets. I’m sure Kiehl’s, and countless others, would be delighted to sponsor that.
Hanna Liden’s Everything remains on view in Hudson River Park (at Christopher Street, West Village, Manhattan), Ruth Wittenberg Plaza (Sixth Avenue and 9th Street, Greenwich Village, Manhattan), and the Kiehl’s flagship story (109 Third Avenue, East Village, Manhattan) through October 20.