Madison Square Park Conservancy’s Annual Public Art Symposium ~ Transforming Public Art ~ at SVA Theatre Set for June 2nd




Madison Square Park Conservancy announced the program for its eighth annual symposium, which convenes artists, curators, and cultural leaders to discuss critical issues and ideas in the fields of public and contemporary art. This year’s symposium, Transforming Public Art, explores how artists are reshaping public art practice—and public space itself—through the use of unexpected materials and by layering their work onto historic sites to spark dialogue about who and what is represented and immortalized in the civic space. The theme of the symposium is inspired by the Conservancy’s commissioned public art exhibitions for 2023: Shahzia Sikander’s Havah…to breathe, air, life, on view through June 4, 2023, and Sheila Pepe’s My Neighbor’s Garden, opening June 26, 2023.

Free and open to the public, Transforming Public Art is organized by Madison Square Park Conservancy and will be held on Friday, June 2, from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., in the SVA Theatre.

Shahzia Sikander: Havah…to breathe, air, life currently on view in Madison Square Park

This year’s symposium features two keynote conversations: one with Shahzia Sikander and Tom Finkelpearl, former Commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and another with Sheila Pepe and Jennie Goldstein, the Jennifer Rubio Associate Curator of the Collection at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Sikander’s Conservancy-commissioned public art project, Havah…to breathe, air life, is centered around two richly symbolic, larger-than-life golden female figures, one within the park and another atop the adjacent Courthouse of the Appellate Division, First Department of the Supreme Court of the State of New York—the first female figure to adorn one of the landmark building’s rooftop plinths. The multimedia exhibition, which also includes one of the artist’s video animations and an augmented reality experience, celebrates feminine strength and wisdom while calling attention to questions of representation in monuments and the justice system. The exhibition is on view through June 4, 2023.

Extending the artist’s experimentation with crochet, Sheila Pepe’s commissioned exhibition, My Neighbor’s Garden, brings color, unexpected materials, and optimism to the park. For her first outdoor exhibition, Pepe is partnering with groups of novice and advanced crocheters and the Conservancy’s horticulture team to create a canopy over the park’s pathways that intermingles vining plants with a wove web of strings and ties, paracord, shoelaces, and sustainable rubber bands. My Neighbor’s Garden opens on June 26 and will be on view through December 10, 2023.

Sheila Pepe (American, b. 1959), Proposal for ‘My Neighbor’s Garden’ in Madison Square Park, 2023. Telephone poles, yard hardware, nylon and cotton string, shoelaces, paradors, rubber bands, plant materials. Dimensions variable. Collection the artist. Courtesy Madison Square Park Conservancy.

Thy symposium also includes a presentation by the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Lucy S. Rhame Curator of Sculpture Dr. Karen Lemmey, who is organizing the forthcoming major exhibition The Shape of Power: Stories of Race and American Sculpture; a panel discussion about working with textiles and the expansive possibilities for unexpected materials in public space, featuring artists Xenobia Bailey, Zoë Buckman, and Ana María Hernando, and Gilbert Vicario, Chief Curator at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, moderated by Legacy Russell, Executive Director & Chief Curator at The Kitchen; and a special musical performance by singer-songwriter and accordionist Gregorio Uribe to close out the program.

Previous public art symposia organized by Madison Square Park Conservancy have included Unearthing Public Art (2022), Greening Public Art (2021), Innovating Public Art (2019), Removing Public Art (2018), Accessing Public Art (2017), Dreaming Public Art (2016), and Explaining Public Art (2015).

Transforming Public Art is made possible by generous support from The Henry Luce Foundation. The Event will take place on Friday, June 2, 2023 from 9:00am to Noon at the SVA Theatre, 333 West 23rd Street, NYC.

Free and open to the public, but RSVP is necessary.

Please RSVP to

Welcome and Curatorial Framing:

Sheila Kearney Davidson, Madison Square Park Conservancy Board Chair, New York

Holly Leicht, Executive Director, Madison Square Park Conservancy, New York

Brooke Kamin Rapaport, Artistic Director and Martin Friedman Chief Curator, Madison Square Park Conservancy, New York


Keynote Conversation on My Neighbor’s Garden:

Jennie Goldstein, Jennifer Rubio Associate Curator of the Collection, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Sheila Pepe, Artist, New York


Panel Discussion:

Legacy Russell, Executive Director & Chief Curator, The Kitchen, New York, moderator

Xenobia Bailey, Artist, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Zoë Buckman, Artist, New York

Ana María Hernando, Artist, Colorado

Gilbert Vicario, Chief Curator, Pérez Art Museum Miami, Florida


Keynote Conversation on Havah…to breathe, air, life:

Tom Finkelpearl, Social Practice Teaching Scholar-in-Residence, The City University of New York, and Former Commissioner, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs” since it already mentioned he works/resides in New York.

Shahzia Sikander, Artist, New York



Dr. Karen Lemmey, The Lucy S. Rhame Curator of Sculpture, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC



Gregorio Uribe, Singer-songwriter and accordionist, New York

About Participants

Xenobia Bailey studied ethno-musicology at the University of Washington, where she became fascinated by the craftsmanship and sounds of the cultures of Africa, Asia, South America, and India. She later studied Industrial Design at Pratt Institute, in Brooklyn, where she was introduced to lifestyle possibilities through design. Today, the Philadelphia-based artist is best known for eclectic crocheted hats, large-scale mandalas, and tents consisting of colorful concentric circles and repeating patterns. Her designs draw influences from Africa, China, and Native American and Eastern philosophies, with undertones of the domestic aesthetic of her mother and other African American rural and urban homemakers, and of the 1960’s and funk visual aesthetic. Bailey has been artist-in-residence at Pittsburgh’s Society for Contemporary Craft, at The Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation in New York City. She has exhibited at the Studio Museum of Harlem; New Museum, New York; the High Museum of Art, Atlanta; the Jersey City Museum; and more. Her work is in the permanent collections at Harlem’s Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture and Museum of Art and Design, in New York City, and the Allentown Art Museum, Pennsylvania. In 2015, she was commissioned by MTA Arts & Design for the Hudson Yards subway station.

Zoë Buckman was born in 1985 in Hackney, East London. Her multidisciplinary practice incorporates sculpture, textiles, ceramics, photography, and large-scale public installations. Adopting an explicitly feminist approach, her work explores identity, trauma, and gendered violence, subverting preconceived notions of vulnerability and strength. She has shown in solo exhibitions at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London; Fort Gansevoort Gallery, New York; Gavlak Gallery, Los Angeles; Project for Empty Space, Newark; and more. Group exhibitions include Baltimore Museum of Art; MOCA, Virginia; Camden Arts Centre, London; The Studio Museum in Harlem; The Children’s Museum of the Arts, New York; Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York; Goodman Gallery, South Africa; Jack Shainman Gallery, New York; The Democratic National Convention, Philadelphia; The National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Atlanta; The National Museum of African-American History & Culture, Washington, D.C.; and more. Public art installations include For Freedoms 50 State Initiative, Inaction is Apathy billboard at 21c Museum Hotel Bentonville, Arkansas, and Champ at The Standard, Downtown LA with Art Production Fund. Buckman currently lives and works in Brooklyn, and is represented by Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London. She studied at The International Center of Photography (GS ‘09) and was awarded an Art Matters Grant in 2017.

Tom Finkelpearl organized fifteen shows at PS1 in the 1980s, worked on over 100 public art commissions at NYC’s Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) in the 1990s, and spearheaded a 50,000 square foot expansion as Director of the Queens Museum (2002– 2014). He oversaw cultural funding and the city’s first cultural plan when he returned to DCLA as Commissioner (2014–2020). He has published two books: Dialogues in Public Art (MIT Press, 2000) and What We Made: Conversations on Art and Social Cooperation (Duke University Press, 2013). Currently he is working on a book on the challenges facing American art museums in collaboration with Pablo Helguera. Finkelpearl lives and works in Brooklyn and is Social Practice Teaching Scholar-in-Residence at CUNY.

Jennie Goldstein is the Jennifer Rubio Associate Curator of the Collection at the Whitney Museum of American Art. She has curated or co-curated numerous shows drawn from the Whitney’s collection, including In the Balance: Between Painting and Sculpture, 1965-1985; Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950-2019; and An Incomplete History of Protest: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection, 1945-2017. In 2018 she organized Christine Sun Kim: Too Much Future as part of the museum’s ongoing public art series. Goldstein is currently hard at work on three yet-to-be announced exhibitions.

Ana María Hernando, from Argentina and based in Colorado, is a multidisciplinary artist interested in making the invisible visible while devotedly exploring the sacred feminine through women’s rich histories, daily lives, and relationship to hand-worked textiles and wares. Hernando is the recipient of numerous awards and accolades, including the 2020 Prix Henry Clews in Sculpture for La Napoule Art Foundation, with a one-year residency and solo show at their château in France; First Prize for the 2021 Biennial of the Americas; and nominations for the 2024 Women to Watch for the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Some solo exhibitions include Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, MCA Denver, BMoCA, Oklahoma Contemporary, Marfa Contemporary, Tweed Museum of Art, International Center of Bethlehem, Denver Botanic Gardens, Sun Valley Museum of Art, and CU Art Museum. Her work is currently included in Narrative Threads: Fiber Art Today at the Moody Center for the Arts, Houston, Texas. In 2018, filmmaker Amie Knox released a documentary about Hernando’s work, titled Undomesticated.

Dr. Karen Lemmey is the Lucy S. Rhame Curator of Sculpture at the Smithsonian American Art Museum; she joined the museum’s staff in 2012. Lemmey is responsible for research, exhibitions, and acquisitions related to the museum’s extensive sculpture collection, which is the largest collection of American sculpture in the world. Her research interests include public art and monuments, the history of materials and methods, American artist colonies in 19th-century Italy, the construction of race in American sculpture, and the history of sculpture conservation and direct carving. Lemmey co-curated Isamu Noguchi, Archaic/Modern (2016) with Dakin Hart, senior curator at The Noguchi Museum, and she was the coordinating curator for Martin Puryear: Multiple Dimensions (2016). Before joining the museum’s staff, Lemmey was a research associate at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and served as monuments coordinator for the City of New York’s Parks & Recreation.

Sheila Pepe was born in Morristown, New Jersey in 1959. She lives and works in Brooklyn. Pepe received a BA from Albertus Magnus College in New Haven; a BFA in ceramics from Massachusetts School of Art, Boston and an MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The artist’s mother taught her to crochet in the 1960s. Pepe discovered women artists who were a generation or two older and associated with the feminist art movement – Lynda Benglis, Eva Hesse, and Nancy Spero –as a crucible to launch her sculptural investigations. Those women responded to the fury of the Vietnam War and became agents of activism for Pepe who overturned hoary assumptions by responding to gender, queer identity, and civil rights. She also questioned the materiality in sculpture, so closely linked to gender. Pepe radicalized the grandmotherly constitution of crochet into a paradigm of feminist action. She studied blacksmithing at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, Deer Isle, Maine and received a fellowship to attend the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Pepe has had numerous solo exhibitions including Des Moines Art Center; ICA Boston; Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum; University Gallery at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Weatherspoon Art Museum, North Carolina; Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus. Liquid Sky (2007) was on view at MoMA PS1. Research Station for the People (2014) was included in the 8th Shenzhen Sculpture Biennial, OCAT, Shenzhen, China. Sheila Pepe: Hot Mess Formalism (2017), the artist’s mid-career survey, was organized by Phoenix Art Museum and traveled to Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse; Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Omaha; and deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Lincoln. Tabernacle for Trying Times (2021)an exhibition with painter Carrie Moyer, was organized by Portland Museum of Art, Maine and traveled to the Museum of Arts and Design, New York. Pepe’s work is in private and public collections including Jersey City Museum, Rose Art Museum at Brandeis, and Harvard University Art Museums. She has had residencies at the Bunting Institute, Radcliffe College at Harvard University, and ART OMI, Ghent, New York. Pepe is the former Assistant Chairperson of Fine Art at Pratt Institute and on faculty at School of Visual Arts.

Legacy Russell is a curator and writer born and raised in New York City. She is the Executive Director & Chief Curator of The Kitchen. Formerly she was the Associate Curator of Exhibitions at The Studio Museum in Harlem. Her academic, curatorial, and creative work focuses on gender, performance, digital selfdom, internet idolatry, and new media ritual. Russell’s written work, interviews, and essays have been published internationally. Recent exhibitions include Samora Pinderhughes: GRIEF (2022, The Kitchen); The Condition of Being Addressable (2022, ICA LA); Sadie Barnette: The New Eagle Creek Saloon (2022, The Kitchen); Projects: Kahlil Robert Irving (2021), Projects: Garrett Bradley (2020), and Projects: Michael Armitage (2019), all with The Studio Museum in Harlem in partnership with The Museum of Modern Art; (Never) As I Was (2021), This Longing Vessel (2020-21), and MOOD (2019) with Studio Museum in partnership with MoMA PS1; Thomas J Price: Witness (2021); Dozie Kanu: Function (2019) and Chloë Bass: Wayfinding (2019) at The Studio Museum in Harlem; LEAN with Performa’s Radical Broadcast online (2020) and in physical space at Kunsthall Stavanger (2021). She is the recipient of the 2021 Creative Capital Award, a 2020 Rauschenberg Residency fellowship, and the Thoma Foundation 2019 Arts Writing Award in Digital Art. Her first book is Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto (2020). Her second book, BLACK MEME, is forthcoming via Verso Books. Russell holds an MRes with Distinction in Art History from Goldsmiths, University of London with a focus in Visual Culture.

Shahzia Sikander expands and subverts pre-modern and classical Central and South-Asian painting traditions through a broad range of materials and methods, including miniature painting, works on paper, video, mosaic, and sculpture. Distinguished for launching the neo-miniature movement, Sikander investigates conceptual premises in language, trade, empire, migration through feminist perspectives, colonial, and imperial power structures through her far-reaching practice. Her innovative work has been exhibited nationally and internationally. Her traveling exhibition on the first 15 years of her art practice, Extraordinary Realities, opened at The Morgan Library in New York in 2021 and traveled to the RISD Museum and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Shahzia Sikander: Unbound, opened in 2021 at Jesus College, University of Cambridge, and explored the artist’s innovative use of manuscripts. Sikander is a 2006 MacArthur Foundation Fellow and received the United States Medal of Arts in 2012. In 2023, she received the Pollock Prize for Creativity, honoring her exhibition Havah…to breathe, air, life, co-commissioned by Madison Square Park Conservancy and Public Art of the University of Houston System. The artist became a Fukuoka Laureate in 2022 as a recipient of the Arts and Culture Prize from Fukuoka City, Japan. She earned her B.F.A. from National College of Arts in Lahore, an M.F.A. from Rhode Island School of Design, and participated in Glassell School of Art’s CORE Program at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Gregorio Uribe is a singer-songwriter and accordionist who has presented his music with the same passion and tenacity at Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden as he has at the streets of Tierra del Fuego or the patios of Montes de María of his native Colombia. He most recently released his third album, Hombre Absurdo, in early 2023. Accompanied by a strong presence of the accordion and powerful Colombian grooves from the Caribbean with the distinctive vigorous sounds of percussion, this album is a remarkable musical creation in which Gregorio lets his musical influences flow, as well as his instinct and experience as a singer songwriter and orchestrator. Prior to Hombre Absurdo, the Berklee College of Music alumnus had released two lauded productions of his own. His first album as a singer-songwriter entitled Pluma y Vino included colorful styles like the bolero, the rumba, the waltz, and the marimba guapireña, among other musical rhythms. His second release was the big band extravaganza Cumbia Universalfeaturing Latin icon Ruben Blades, in which he fused rhythms of the Colombian Caribbean such as cumbia, chandé and porro with big band jazz arrangements.

Gilbert Vicario is Chief Curator at the Pérez Art Museum Miami. Previously, he served as Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs and The Selig Family Chief Curator at Phoenix Art Museum, and as Senior Curator and division head for curatorial affairs at the Des Moines Art Center. Upcoming exhibitions include Xican-a.o.x Body, with Cecilia Fajardo-Hill, organized for American Federation of Arts and traveling to The Cheech (summer 2023), and Desert Rider, curated for Phoenix Art Museum and traveling to Denver Art Museum (summer 2023). Recent exhibitions include California Biennial 2022: Pacific Gold at the Orange County Museum of Art (2022); Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcendentalist at Phoenix Art Museum, New Mexico Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, and Palm Springs Art Museum (2019–2021); and Ragnar Kjartansson: Scandinavian Pain and Other Myths (2018) at Phoenix Art Museum. In 2017, he organized the first mid-career survey and publication of the American artist Sheila Pepe titled Hot Mess Formalism, which traveled to the Everson Museum of Art at Syracuse University, the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, Omaha, and the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Lincoln, Massachusetts. In 2013, Vicario organized the largest North American presentation of the work of Phyllida Barlow, Phyllida Barlow: Screeat the Des Moines Art Center. Vicario has contributed to numerous exhibition publications both nationally and internationally.

Taking a look-back at Madison Square Park and Conservancy Projects/Programs.