A wonderful new apparition was formed amongst the flowering trees in Clement Clarke Moore Park in April. Artist, Nathan Sawaya’s public art installation, “Hugman,” positioned three colorful figures made out of recycled LEGOs throughout the small children’s playground. The largest of which is seven feet tall comprised of over 50,000 individual pieces. The work is an interesting juxtaposition of the plastic communing with the natural, man as a futuristic pixelation hugging a tree. The “Hugman” series is part of Mr. Sawaya’s efforts to supplant his works in the public realm. It also handily promotes his international exhibition, “The Art of the Brick,” at Discovery Times Square.
The installation works on many levels, both intellectually, emotionally and visually. It conveys in rather simple terms the crux of our evolutionary crossroads between technology and nature. It is not quite as potent of an idea as Antony Gormley’s landmark public art exhibition around Madison Square Park in 2010, where the English artist placed life-sized, naked men, fashioned out of cast iron at various locations, some precariously set at the precipice of rooftops. Gormley’s work challenged our perceptions of our place in the world in a clever, physical sense, while simultaneously heeding a call to our dangerous nature in a mysterious way. But I digress.
Sawaya’s “Hugman” is a playful reminder to love and respect the natural world lest we become too machine like. The history of the park itself reflects the course of industry overtaking nature. Located in Chelsea on a particularly beautiful block of old townhouses from the 1800’s, the park’s namesake is a bit of New York City lore. Clement Clark Moore inherited of a large swath of farmland named “Chelsea” that bordered the Hudson to the west and Houston St. to the south, in the early 1800’s. Moore was vehemently opposed to the breaking up his land by Commissioner’s Plan of 1811, which called for the construction of Ninth Ave through the center of his demesne. Moore provided covenants to the sale that restricted manufacturing and commercial uses on the land. An early environmentalist and philanthropist Moore later gave his a large apple orchard, 66 tracts of land, to the Episcopal Diocese of New York that became the General Theological Seminary. The Seminary clings to a sliver of its property today, dicing its parts for sale as the price of property in the area reaches obscene amounts. One day this small park will be razed too, and the family from which Chelsea gets its namesake may be forgotten amidst the rungs of the ladder of progress. “Hugman” reminds us to hold on.