Even on a cold winter’s day New York’s High Line is a popular place. It is somewhere to escape from the noise and the traffic, a peaceful spot where you can enjoy the fresh air and the plants. With the added bonus of outdoor art and sculpture as you walk through the park.
A Raised City Park
The High Line is an unusual urban park raised high above the ground. It was originally a high level railway line built to remove freight from the city streets. The line was used to move meat and other foodstuffs to warehouses and factories but, with the decline in rail freight, it closed in 1980 and was threatened with demolition. However alternative plans were put forward and eventually the High Line reopened as an urban park in 2002. The park runs for 1½ miles from Gansevoort Street (in the heart of the old meatpacking district) to 11th Ave, West 34th Street. A further small section is planned to open in 2017.
We had our lunch in the appropriately named Serafina Meatpacking, a popular Italian restaurant with a long cocktail list. Then we climbed the steps to the start of the High Line (there are several access points along the line, some with elevators). The park has been planted with more than 200 species of plants, many of them grasses and meadow flowers. Of course, it was winter, and the trees were bare, but the spring flowers were just starting to poke through the ground. I tried to imagine what it would be like later in the year, when the trees were in leaf and the flowers in full bloom. But even now it was a pleasant walk, with various viewing points where you could stop and watch the New York traffic or get a glimpse of the Empire State Building in the distance.
Contemporary Art on the High Line
From the beginning it was envisaged that the High Line would be used as a place for events and displays of contemporary art. The 10th Avenue Square is an amphitheatre-style space which acts as a meeting place and performance area. According to the High Line website the occasional wedding takes place here as well! There are sculptures and artworks all along the line. The first permanent installation was Spencer Finch’s The River That Flows Both Ways, a window in a nearby factory that has been fitted with 700 glass panes. Each piece of glass is a different colour, extracted from a series of photographs of the nearby Hudson River. Another early work is Charlie Hewitt’s Urban Rattle, a multicoloured aluminium sculpture outside an apartment block.
There are temporary exhibitions too. We caught the tail end of Panorama, a series of sculptures taking their inspiration from the urban landscape. We looked at a marble sculpture of Manhattan Island and at Damian Ortega’s Physical Graffiti, a creation of giant metal tags that framed the cityscape below. Then there was a sound installation by Ryan Gander, streaming live audio from the artist’s garden in England (sound installations are a regular feature of the High Line’s displays).
As much care seems to have been put into the construction of the park as into the art exhibitions. All along the line sections of railway track had been artfully positioned as a reminder of the park’s history. And towards the end of the path we came to a canopy, put up to protect walkers from nearby construction work. But this was a canopy with a difference: it was a sculpture in its own right, a curved silver tunnel more than 100 ft long. Ultimately the High Line is a work of art in itself.
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