What, exactly, constitutes public art and what, ideally, is its goal are questions with potentially controversial answers. But, a rough hypothesis: Public art is the placement of an object (or image or text or performance) in a public space that serves no practical purpose; rather, its raison d’être is to interrupt the onslaught of the normal—to make you think and feel.
But you probably already knew this because Brooklyn is home to an abundance of public art, so we think and feel here a lot. And now, DNAinfo reports, more public art is planned for the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge (Kings County-side) that will really make you scratch your head: a gigantic finger (index, specifically), and an adjoining forearm, pointing toward the sky.
The piece has been commissioned by the New York Department of Cultural Affairs from Brooklyn artist Hank Willis Thomas as part of the Department of Transportation’s Tillary Street capital project. DNAinfo says Willis’ plans for the forthcoming finger are mutable, but DCA revealed the statue will be at least 12 feet high.
Thomas has already caused my brain to work a little harder during lunch walks around Metrotech Center, where our offices are located, with his fall 2015 dialog bubble installation “The Truth Is I See You.” Attached to area light poles, these speech bubbles result in silent interrogations. A typical lunchtime-stroll has had me wondering, “Is this text corporately sponsored?” (no, thankfully); then, “What part of me do you see?”; and, “What is it that you see?” Then, mild relief: “It doesn’t matter, someone cares,” the text convinces. “That’s nice.”
Point is, my walks to Hale and Hearty are more than a zombie shuffle to sustenance thanks to, you guessed it, public art; it reminds me that I am alive and matter to someone. (At least that’s the conclusion I choose to take from it.)
As for the meaning behind this latest piece? Guesses will abound, and given the figure, answers are sure to be varied and rich. Willis himself likes that its meaning is ambiguous, “simple and complex all at once.”
The DCA suggests it might have to do with “individual and collective identity, ambition and perseverance,” which all sounds very nice. And for those traveling from Manhattan, we cannot help but anticipate that the large finger–one of the first images they will see as they cross into Brooklyn–could suggest superiority, a claim staked as to which borough exactly is number one.
This of course is likely not its (sole) meaning. But as per the purpose of the art, it’s the thought that counts.