Celebrating the 35th Anniversary of the First ‘Percent for Art’ Installation, ‘Growth’ and artist Jorge Luis Rodriguez in Harlem Art Park ~ July 5, 2020

 

 

 

Image of Mayor Edward Koch who was the originator of the Percent for Art Program, along with Bess Myerson and the artist, Jorge Luis Rodriguez at ribbon cutting for ‘Growth’ in 1985 in the Art Park. Image via New York City Percent for Art courtesy of the Artist

On June 26th, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs will celebrate the 35th Anniversary of the Percent for Art Program, and its first art installation, Growth, by sculpture artist, Jorge Luis Rodriguez. Here are some wonderful images of the artist and Growth as it was being created, and a few thoughts on this historic occasion by the artist when we visited his studio in May, 2020.

Due to bad weather, the celebration has been rescheduled for Sunday, July 5th from Noon to 2:00pm. Stop by and meet the artist, Jorge Luis Rodriguez at Art Park. Please remember to wear a mask. Social distancing will be in place.

The first Percent for Art Program installation, ‘Growth’ in Harlem Art Park with the historic Harlem Courthouse in the background. Image courtesy of the artist

How did you come up with your idea for Growth?

I was awarded the New York Percent for Art commission in 1984 for a sculpture in Harlem Art Park. The park was under construction and I was able to follow its progress, observe the interaction of the surrounding natural elements to better capture the vitality of the trees, birds, and people in relation to the proposed art. I established a dialogue with the community from the start and spoke to many residents about the project.”

Artist signature at the bottom of the art installation, Growth.

I wanted to focus on how my art would reflect the symbiotic relationship of all life forms within this park and create something site specific that would allow for different interpretations. The idea for the monumental public sculpture Growth was mostly based on memories from my childhood when I loved to plant seeds and watch them sprout and grow in my tropical garden. I was inspired by these experiences to design and produce a work of art that would reflect these memories and capture the joy as well as complexities of flora and fauna in Nature.

Article courtesy of the Artist, 1985

Stepping back in time, below are images that will take readers from the beginning of the process with the artist in 1984 from sketch pad to the Flame Cut Steel Factory, the finished sculpture and ribbon cutting in Harlem Art Park in 1985.

Jorge Luis Rodriguez working one ‘Growth’, 1984. Image courtesy of the artist

 

The sculptor, Jorge Luis Rodriguez and ‘Growth’ at the Flame Cut Steel Factory before its installation at Harlem Art Park in 1985. Image courtesy of the artist

 

Jorge Luis Rodriguez and ‘Growth’ 1984. Image courtesy of the artist

 

Ready to leave Flame Cut Steel Factory, and make the trip to Harlem Art Park for installation. Image courtesy of the artist

 

‘Growth’ arriving at Harlem Art Park. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

Sculpture artist Jorge Luis Rodriguez and the ‘Growth’  restoration 2010 in Harlem Art Park. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

‘Growth’ installation team in Harlem Art Park, May 1985. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

Model of ‘Growth’, 1984. Image courtesy of the artist

Continuing in conversation……

This motivation was integrated into the project to compel the visiting public to participate, analyze and visualize the multiple variations of a seed sprouting from the ground, a bird or insect flying into space and other infinite renditions. It was an analogy created to represent and announce the inception of the New York Department of Cultural Affairs’ newly created Percent for Art Program, its first project, the first artwork, sprouting and peeking from the cobblestones of the public green area for the community of New York City public at large and visitors from all points of the world.”

Artist Jorge Luis Rodriguez with model of his installation, Growth. Image courtesy of the artist

It was my vision that Growth would represent Nature’s vibrancy and constant metamorphosis for the public to view their surroundings with enjoyment. The piece has been free of graffiti and never vandalized for thirty five years; I am grateful that the public respects the work of art.”

Jorge Luis Rodriguez with ‘Growth’. Image courtesy of the artist.

Harlem Art Park has an interesting history. The City of New York originally acquired the first part of this property, behind the historic Harlem Courthouse, as a site for a public bath in 1929. The bath never materialized and the site lay vacant for nine years. By 1938, the land had become a popular informal sitting park ~ and was finally acquired by Parks in 1945.

From L-R, sculpture artist Jorge Luis Rodriguez and Director, Percent for Art Program, Kendal Henry standing in front of the first Percent for Art Program installation, ‘Growth’. Image courtesy of the artist

Harlem Art Park doubled in size in 1992 when half of the closed off road at Sylvan Place was added to the existing park. Harlem Art Park is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project.

We find that 2020 is as much a celebration of the artist as it is with the program for which he is so widely known. Born in Puerto Rico, Jorge Luis Rodriguez arrived in New York City at the age of 18. He worked as a Junior Art Director before attending School of Visual Arts and New York University, receiving his Bachelor Degree and Masters in Fine Arts respectively, with his first professional show in 1976 at Just Above Midtown Gallery (JAM), located on West 57th Street, just months before his graduation from the School of Visual Arts.

cheops, 1976, at Just Above Midtown Gallery (JAM)

 

Exhibition,’Circle with Four Corners’ at Just Above Midtown Gallery 1976

In his first exhibition, Circles/Circulos (1976), Rodriguez used a found object, recovered from the trash of a building located near the Just Above Midtown Gallery.

Circles / Circulos (1976) Steel / hierro

Also in the Just Above Midtown (JAM) exhibition, a series of graphite drawings, which are two to four feet in diameter, the artist experimented with line density and shading, while alluding to concepts related to astronomy, biology, and architecture. A set of two cylindrical sculptures were also installed in the gallery space and explore similar forms of abstraction.

Circles / Circulos (1976) Steel / hierro

Inspired by the infamous readymades of French artist Marcel Duchamp, Jorge Luis then installed the metal hoop in the gallery, placing it against the walls at an angle. Using light and shadow, the optical illusion of the “four corners” referenced in the title of the work is produced. Thus, the found object was integrated seamlessly into the circular theme of the exhibition. The artist later donated the readymade to the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1981.

1978 exhibition, Recent Sculptures by artist Jorge Luis Rodriguez at Just Above Midtown Gallery, 1978

The 1976 exhibition at Just Above Midtown Gallery was followed by the 1977 exhibition, Recent Works, which was his senior thesis, at 80 Washington Square East Galleries, followed by a 1978 exhibition entitled Recent Sculptures, once again at Just Above Midtown Gallery (JAM). In that exhibition, Rodriguez presented Circle With Four Corners (image above).

From L-R, David Hammons, Jorge Luis Rodriguez and Charles Abramson, 1981. Image taken at Studio Museum in Harlem courtesy of Jorge Luis Rodriguez (unknown photographer).

The image above, from left to right, David Hammons, Jorge Luis Rodriguez and Charles Abramson ~ all three were artists-in-residence from 1980 to 1981 at Studio Museum in Harlem.

From there, Rodriguez would go on to exhibit in a plethora of galleries and installations too numerous to mention spanning all medium over decades.

A few of his most recent are shown here in images below, beginning with a series of four temporary installations in that very park in 2015.

Four art installations at various locations throughout Harlem and East Harlem, then moving to Harlem Art Park (above).

They would be named ~ Birdhouse; Fish Spine; Hummingbird; and Palenque. The four installation initially resided as temporary installation in various locations throughout Harlem and East Harlem. In 2015, the four works arrived in Harlem Art Park as part of the 30th anniversary celebration of Growth.

A closeup of ‘Birdhouse’, one of the four installations in that series

Birdhouse, 1986. Pablo Neruda’s poem “Las aves maltratadas,” (“The Brutalized Birds”) references the conduct of birds that assemble en masse in public places. They perch, nest and produce their offspring in an array of environments. Their survival is affected by the behavior of mankind, as well as the forces of nature.

Fish Spine, 1987. Rodríguez’s recollection of fishing adventures in the Caribbean Sea with his brother is captured in this simple elongated spine: assembling nets, preparing bait, casting, celebrating their catch and the final act of consumption that left behind only a vestige of the delectable sea creature.

Hummingbird, 1987. The symbiotic relationship between fauna and flora is captured in this swift, frozen moment that depicts the bird’s constant hovering while it extracts substance from nature in a movement so rapid that it appears motionless.

Palenque, 1987. The sculpture is inspired by Mayan architectural devices used to record the passing of celestial events. The interplay of openings in the “roof comb” of buildings, such as those observed in Palenque, allowed for the recording of light and shadow that provide essential markers utilized in daily life activities such as for the planting of crops and understanding of patterns of astronomical phenomena.

In that same year, the major installation ‘The Oracle of the Past, Present and Future’  would be on view in Tompkins Square Park, in the East Village.

The Oracle of the Past, Present and Future, 2015 in Tompkins Square Park

Jorge Luis Rodriguez: The Oracle of the Past, Present and Future, 2015 was inspired by the study of celestial bodies; the influence of the sun, moon, planets and constellations of the zodiac on human affairs, and the natural world. The fascination with the prediction of events and casting horoscopes endures.

A closeup of the installation, The Oracle of the Past, Present and Future, 2015

The Oracle of the Past, Present and Future was created with steel, wood and glass. It was on view in Thompson Square Park from June 2015 through May 2016.

The artist, Jorge Luis Rodriguez and wife, Evelyn (and Pandy) standing under ‘Zebra Bird’. Image courtesy of the artist

In addition, Rodriguez was selected by the Institute of PR Culture/Instituto de Culture Puertorriqueña to exhibit his beautiful Zebra Bird, pictured above, in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2019. This installation was a version of his Zebra Bird on view in an earlier exhibit, Early Encounters, (below) on Governors Island.

Artist, Jorge Luis Rodriguez for ‘Early Encounters’ on Governor’s Island. Image courtesy of the artist.

Above image of the artist in Early Encounters, a group exhibition on Governors Island.

500 years of the Cultural Reversal of America at Center for Puerto Rican Studies in 2015

The thoughtful exhibition (and one of my favorites) A Monument to the 500 Years of the Cultural Reversal of America was installed at The Center for Puerto Rican Studies in East Harlem in 2015.

This exhibition at The Center was a compilation of decades of artwork by the artist entitled ARTchives: Method and Documentation. Part of this exhibition included an exhibit entitled ‘A Monument to the 500 Years of the Cultural Reversal of America,’ which was a small-scale exhibition of the artist’s original sculpture of a Galleon ~ a slave ship, including ceramic slaves placed in the hold of the vessel (above image). Here the artist brought the original sculpture down to scale, painting the Galleon on the wall of the library, with fifty of the original 126 ceramic slaves beneath.

Artist Jorge Luis Rodriguez giving a tour of his solo exhibition, A Monument to the 500 Years of Cultural Reversal of America at Puerto Rican Studies in East Harlem

We can’t leave this exhibition without a mention of the original, commissioned sculpture, which coincided with the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492.

Below is the image of the original sculpture, a twenty-foot long medieval slave ship. The glove at the front-end of the ship alludes to the post-Columbian “New World” while the indigenous, Pre-Columbian inhabitants are represented by feathers placed all around the vessel.

The original sculpture by artist Jorge Luis Rodriguez, “Legacy/Legado,” at The Old New State House, Hartford, Connecticut, curated by Luis Cancel.

The major installation Atlas of the Third Millennium was unveiled in Marcus Garvey Park, East Harlem, in late 2017 (image below).

The Atlas of the Third Millennium, 2016-2017 in Marcus Garvey Park, East Harlem

This 14-foot tall, galvanized steel sculpture in the form of a universe paid homage to actors, writers, musicians, artists, educators, activists, entrepreneurs and leaders.

A closeup of Atlas of the Third Millennium

Atlas, along with an accompanying catalogue, was on view to October 2018. We were pleased to be able to visit the artist in his studio in Brooklyn to get a peek at Atlas, while is was in the making (image below).

With the artist in his workshop in 2016

We were also pleased to attend a gallery exhibit, which included the globe portion of Atlas, in June, 2016, pictured below.

Atlas exhibit in Brooklyn gallery, June, 2016

The artist lit the globe from within for this exhibition, which created a spectacular site to viewers attending the one-month long gallery exhibition.

Closeup of the Atlas globe in gallery exhibition in June 2016.

We found some interesting background reading on the Percent for Art program and the first Percent for Art installation by author/historian Michele H. Bogart in her book, A Companion to Public Art,’ where she writes (on p. 396) about criteria for choosing artists for Percent for Art ~ questioning whether to consider emerging or established artists; creating a pool of artists to select from, and selecting panelists to choose the artists. Bogart followed up extensively on this program in her book, Sculpture in Gotham: Art and Urban Renewal in New York City. The Percent for Art Program has gone on to unveil over 300 installations throughout our five boroughs since its first unveiling in 1985.

Art Park, East Harlem with ‘Growth’ and the historic Harlem Courthouse in the background

Jorge Luis Rodriguez lives and works in Brooklyn with his wife Evelyn.

The East Harlem Art Park has gone on to host several temporary installations through the efforts of Public Art Initiative, including the current installation, Susan Stair: Roots on Fire.  Ms. Stair will be joining the festivities with paper mosaics for kids!

Artist Susan Stair next to her installation, Roots on Fire, in Harlem Art Park

In addition, Friends of Art Park Alliance recently installed  the ongoing, and growing ‘East Harlem Remembers‘ memorial wall, with a remembrance of loved ones who have lost their lives due to COVID-19. A Moment of Prayer will take place at 2:00pm.

East Harlem Remembers Memorial Wall. Image courtesy Friends of Art Park Alliance

You will notice the historic Harlem Courthouse in the background.

The East Harlem Art Park is located on East 120th Street and Sylvan Place between Lexington and Third Avenues. Follow Friends of the Art Park Alliance on Facebook.

Wish you had a piece of ‘Growth’ to call your own?

Posters measuring 11″ x 17″, From L-R, Growth #1 ~ Growth #2 ~ Growth #3

Posters measuring 11″ x 17″ are available for $20 each + $5 shipping & handling. To receive your poster, email the artist, Jorge Luis Rodriguez at JorgeLuis.Growth@gmail.com.   Specify name and number of poster.

Posters measuring 11″ x 17″, From L-R, The Oracle #1 ~ Atlas #1 ~ The Oracle #2

Or get all of them + many more in the book, Jorge Luis Rodriguez: Sculptures, Installations, Collaborations ~ hard cover, 72 pages measuring 8 1/2″ x 11″ including 119 color photos. $35 + $5 shipping & handling.

Cover of the book, Jorge Luis Rodriguez: Sculptures, Installations, Collaborations ~ a 72 page book.

Email: JorgeLuis.growth@gmail.com

Did you miss the party? Not to worry. We’ll take you there with a few pictures from the very festive day.

From L-R, Debbie Quinones, Director ~ Friends of Art Park Alliance; Connie Lee, President of Marcus Garvey Park Alliance and Director of Public Art Initiative; the sculpture artist, Jorge Luis Rodriguez ~ all standing in front of ‘Growth’  Connie Lee is receiving the first ‘Growth Award for Community Art Advocacy’ from Friends of Art Park Alliance.
A really good try at a group picture while social distancing!
Included this pictures ~ an emotional moment of Debbie Quinones expressing her thanks to Jorge Luis Rodriguez, the artist of Growth, and Connie Lee, who curates the temporary art installations in Art Park
A pictorial timeline of public artworks by Jorge Luis Rodriguez lined the fence between Art Park and the historic Harlem Court House.
Several of the sculpture pieces included in the timeline were temporary installations right there in Art Park
An additional timeline of the artists work was found on the fence entrance to Art Park on 120th Street between Lexington and Third Avenues
Large banner graces the front gate to Art Park celebrating the 35th Anniversary of the sculpture ‘Growth’ and the 1st Percent for Art artist, Jorge Luis Rodriguez
On the outside fence, a timeline of artwork created by Jorge Luis Rodriguez
Yes, artists support artists, with #RootsOnFire artist Susan Stair holding mosaic workshops throughout the day! Her large-scale art installation ‘Roots On Fire’ currently on view in Art Park through Public Art Initiative
Pictures here, one of the young artists with her mosaic from the workshop given by artist, Susan Stair during the 35th Anniversary celebration. She is standing next to the artist, Jorge Luis Rodriguez in front of his sculpture, Growth.

We can’t end this day of celebration with out mentioning a memorial celebration held for local residents of East Harlem who lost their lives to COVID-19. A beautiful wall can be seen on the eastern side of the park ~ each ribbon with the name of a loved one recently lost to the virus. More on the Memorial on Friends of Art Park Alliance Facebook Page.

Memorial Wall & ribbons with names of those lost to COVID-19
Here’s a closer look of the ribbons.
Art Park, with memorial to local residents who have lost their lives due to the pandemic

Friends of Art Park Alliance would love suggestions on what park goers would like to see in their park. If you didn’t fill out the questionnaire at the event, you can find it on Friends of Art Park Alliance Facebook page, along with a way to buy a t-shirt or tote.

Got suggestions for Art Park? The Alliance would love to hear your thoughts
Art Park T-Shirts & Totes

 

 

2 thoughts on “Celebrating the 35th Anniversary of the First ‘Percent for Art’ Installation, ‘Growth’ and artist Jorge Luis Rodriguez in Harlem Art Park ~ July 5, 2020

    1. If you are in Art Park on Saturday, June 27th, you can meet the artist between 1:00-3:00pm.

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