No, a UFO has not landed in Central Park. It’s just Mobile Art, Chanel’s Contemporary Art Container plopped on Rumsey Playfield. It is Zaha Hadid’s first edifice in New York, a swooping futuristic nautilus that feels like a sci-fi movie come true. Chanel commissioned a group of contemporary artists to create work taking the company’s famous boxy 2.55 handbag as a starting point, which some did literally, some conceptually.
When the Mobile Art project was conceived a while back, and even when it bowed in Hong Kong in February 2008, it was likely incomprehensible that the state of the national and world economies would be where they currently are. Some visitors may view it as if it were a year ago – as a celebration of a top purveyor of luxury leather goods enshrined in a similarly haute setting by one of the world’s most admired avant-garde architects.
Others may feel that it’s a time stamp on a period of unlimited greed and profligacy which ended with a restructuring of the big financial institutions, and resulting in the most precarious financial state since the Great Depression. As well as a frivolous confection that takes up real estate in the park.
In any case, Hadid’s building alone is worth a visit. She used yacht design software to create the modular unit that will ultimately have toured to six cities. It definitely feels like stuff from films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Star Wars, all white shiny plastic with few straight lines or corners.
For sure the aims of this project are promotional and commercial on Chanel’s part, but you have to hand it to them for inviting the unwashed masses into their pristine bubble, the artwork vulnerable to grubby hands. But some of the artwork manages to transcend the venture’s tinge of lucre.
The Pavement by Leandro Erlich features a projected Parisian streetscape with shifting light dynamics and imagery, but viewed in the reflection of a curbside puddle. It’s located in a dark hallway space that feels awkward, yet positions you precisely to view the work. And it’s absolutely mesmerizing and transporting. Tabaimo’s hypnotic video installation, at the bottom, is projected in a cone-shaped space you look down into; the wraparound imagery includes bug bodies and their fluttering, emancipated wings.
Other artworks deal with the production process or finished product. Fabrice Hyber installed a container that holds an assortment of his sculptures made by the Chanel worshop – square soccer “balls,” teddy bears, seating. Sylvie Fleury made a version of the handbag large enough to serve as a kind of sleeping grotto. Others artists played with the leather-laced signature chain strap, or the familiar stitched quilting. The lure of this deluxe object is strong, as is the sensual plasticity of Hadid’s building, but here, the strongest works transcend physicality.
Photo by François Lacour/AIA Productions.