Approaching Prudence—one of the seven sculptures that Carol Bove recently installed on the High Line's Rail Yards segment—Cecilia Alemani, curator of High Line Art, pointed out where the vegetation first appears on this northernmost stretch of the elevated park. This spot is where Bove's "nature walk" begins. Alemani spoke with A.i.A. last week, soon after Friends of the High Line began giving tours of the final portion of the track, which has not yet been renovated like the rest of the park. Bove's multipart installation "Caterpillar" will be on view here through May 2014.
Several meters and a thicket of weeds south of Prudence, a bright white oversize curlicue, Alemani reached14, a structure of rusted steel I-beams bolted together into a form that echoes the train tracks imbedded in the High Line. As she walked along the platform, which runs along the Hudson, bending north from 34th Street toward the city's main branch of the post office, Alemani pointed out the rest of the "Caterpillar" sculptures: another I-beam piece, similar to 14; an 8-inch-thick bronze slab, marked by oxidization, hovering over the tracks and ballast; another wormlike curlicue, made of powder-coated steel; a smaller I-beam assemblage; and a concrete stump topped by a cluster of stacked tiny brass cubes. Alemani also called attention to a defunct switchbox—which Bove considers a readymade—and a large tumbleweed of twisted metal, another found object.
When Alemani approached Bove about creating work for the High Line almost two years ago, the artist—whose oeuvre is characterized by the precisely composed presentation of precious found materials such as seashells, peacock feathers and copies of obscure out-of-print journals—was not a predictable choice for a major public commission in New York. At that point, Bove had never made an outdoor artwork.
But Alemani was eager to find a place for Bove on the High Line, and the as-yet undeveloped Rail Yards section seemed the most exciting site for an installation. "Her work is reminiscent of so many things that you find on the High Line," Alemani said. She described another correlation between Bove's smaller works and those included in "Caterpillar": "Her work is so much about the power of display and pedestals and vitrines and windows, and here you can see she is using the landscape of the High Line, and the city around [it], as her own pedestal. She completely got rid of bases and pedestals and positioned the sculptures right on the vegetation."
Bove experimented with the same methods of display last year in her Documenta 13 installation. Not long after Alemani pitched the idea of a High Line commission, the artist began work on a project for the formal garden of the Orangerie in Karlsaue Park, in Kassel. She arranged sculptures—among them a tangled mass of powder-coated steel like the white pieces on the High Line (which she calls "glyphs"), plus Monel, a pristine bronze slab that, after being damaged by floodwater during Hurricane Sandy, is now part of "Caterpillar"—between manicured green hedges and around a statue of the goddess Flora.
Comparing the installations, Alemani observed that "‘Caterpillar' is so anti-monumental. To me, Documenta was a much more monumental piece. It was solemn and it was royal. Here, it's so much about what is happening around it."
Bove's High Line sculptures cite the rail yard below the platform, the buildings that tower on either side and in the distance, the bits of junk nestled in the dirt and rocks and, most obviously, the train tracks themselves. "I think she was very interested in creating parallels within the readymade objects that are here and her own work," Alemani said.
Already Bove's figures, which she considers to be "like UFO objects," have become part of the landscape. Weeds have begun to grow around them, just as they have sprouted around the detritus that has littered the platform for decades. Alemani said she looks forward to watching the installation evolve as the seasons change. Pointing to weeds at her feet, she said, "In three weeks, those will be to your knees!"
"Caterpillar" will be installed on the High Line through May 2014. Free nature walk reservations are available at www.thehighline.org.