A Year In New York

A Daily Bite of the Big Apple

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Day 48: The New World of Veggie Art

August 13th · 2 Comments

With food shortages popping up around the planet, I’ve been drawn to visit the art museum known as P.S. 1, which this summer has built a rural farm right in the middle of Queens.

The exhibit, called Public Farm 1, occupies the courtyard and is composed of cardboard cylinders planted with 51 varieties of edible veggies and herbs. Essentially it’s an elevated garden that one can wander under and around. Artists imagine the world, and I looked up at this creation, in need of inspiration. How we will grow our own food as the industrial supply runs low?

Interpretive signs explained how the artists had assembled, in miniature, the puzzle-pieces that we’ll need to weather the climate crisis. The cardboard was recycled and the fertilizer made from worm poop. Solar panels provided the electricity for the blenders, which were on site to make veggie cocktails out of the harvest for evening parties in the courtyard.

Admirable indeed, yet something struck me as odd. I couldn’t quite tell what.

I walked past the other parts of the exhibit – digital recordings of goats baaing and cows mooing, and hey, look, a chicken coop occupied by real live chickens – and toward the museum itself.

P.S. 1 is five stories tall and the site of a former public school, which means it has loads of space. Entire rooms are dedicated to large, mind-bending installations: screens of trippy optical effects, a documentary about a group of Finnish men who sing by screaming, a waterfall that flows uphill, an upside-down police car decked out with disco balls.

In no time at all I was completely overstimulated, and I walked back into the farm/courtyard in the blinding, hot sun. That’s when I figured out what was so different about the art outside.

It was so darn…straightforward. No one had put Bluetooth earbuds on the chickens, or interspersed the cucumbers with bobble-heads of Dick Cheney. Postmodern art isn’t worth a thing if it lacks its US RDA of irony, and there was nothing ironic here at all, no pain or anger seeking expression.

Just plants growing. That and some chickens.

One interpretive sign described the farm as “A magical plot of rural delights inserted within the city grid that resonates with our generations’ preoccupations and hopes for a better and different future.” I heard echoes of Barack Obama’s tagline, “Change We Can Believe In.” I knew that the country is aching for political change, to quit the cynical gridlock of Washington, but this is the first time I’d seen its counterpart in the New York art scene.

Maybe the art world, too, wants to quit the endless cycle of criticism and cutting down and mocking that has been its hallmark for a couple of generations, and actually do something.

As I took one last look up at this simple installation, I wondered how art historians will observe it twenty years from now. Will we look back proudly at the point where something wholesome began to blossom? Will we shake our heads, shocked at how gullible we were that anything could really change?

Only time will tell. Time, and us.

Tags: Museums & Art · Sights & Scenes · Why I Love This Town

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 sam iam // Aug 14, 2008 at 3:47 am

    well, better hope that the economic crash finally happens. most people, especially americans, don’t notice or move until they get hit in the wallet.

  • 2 Bev // Aug 15, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    Awesome slide show of the museum. Thanks for linking it. $5 admission indeed! NY is SOOOO cool!

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