posted 2012-04-07 16:10:09

Park Avenue Sculptures on Masquerade

A game of Tetris gone awry

Shanika Powell

Contributing Writer

Sculptures by Rafael Barrios. Photos by Shanika Powell.
Everywhere you look on Park Avenue: white, neon pink, Barney purple, and electric blue geometric shapes are falling out of the sky. Or, more specifically, from twenty feet above the ground, abstract sculptures are over-running Park Avenue from 51st to 67th street. Rafael Barrios, a 64-year-old Venezuelan sculptor with the imaginative mind of a gamer, has managed to maneuver nine steel statues into the lives of the avenue’s inhabitants and passersby. Barrios’ sculptures are three- dimensional optical illusions that look much like Tetris blocks.

Despite using fairly thin sheets of welded metal, the sculptures appear quite solid. Not until you approach the figures and stare at them straight on does their flatness become apparent. So, what’s the secret to their depth? Well, it’s two things: light and distance. The light interacts differently with the pieces, whether you are approaching the shapes from the sidewalk or briskly encountering them while crossing Park Avenue. The shadows shifting across the lacquered surface of the steel make each work appear to be caught in suspended animation. The triangles, rectangles, and squares appear to either grow, shrink or float depending on where they are being seen from and how fast they’re being passed by.

Despite the immense weight of the installations—according to The Huffington Post, each piece weighs over 2,200 pounds—they seem to carry a surreal weightlessness, and they lend themselves well to the illusion of motion. One observant pedestrian remarked, “I’d say they were falling.” Barrios might say they are flying, at least based on the titles he gave his works: Malabarismo(Juggling), Centrifuga (Centrifuged), or Flight. This thoughtful motion is a pleasant addition to the obstinate brick buildings and frantic yellow taxis in the area. Similar to the bright blue cartoon bird that appears in the dance number of the film 500 Days of Summer, the artworks are a strange but appropriate manifestation of Park Avenue’s constant motion.

Centrifuga, the neon pink statue on 67th and Park is one of the most striking pieces of the installation. Many students have likely noticed its visibility from the Hunter North Building entrance—its otherworldliness is hard to miss. Nestled flirtatiously in a bed of tulips, Centrifugacaptures the essence of both playfulness and spontaneity. The giddy shade of pink emits an ambiguous sense that urges viewers to figure the piece out. Where exactly do the angles point? Where is it going? Which side faces front?

Some of the statues look as if they were pulled right out of a children’s novel or belong to a fluorescent anime backdrop. However, in their simplicity, what each viewer sees in them is personal. Just don’t think too hard on it. According to a Washington Timesinterview with the artist, Barrios hopes that people will “just have fun looking at them.” So, whenever you get the chance, stroll on over to Park Avenue and check out the road-straddled illusions. Challenge them—look at them from every angle and have your mind blown every time they change direction. The sculptures will stay on display until June 30, so make sure to experience their surrealism before the Park Avenue Fund gives Barrios his art back.