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ABC Playground

New Otterness Play Sculpture Leaps Into ABC Playground


Friday, October 19, 2007
No. 138
http://www.nyc.gov/parks

Commissioner Adrian Benepe joined artist Tom Otterness, Department of Education Deputy Chancellor for Finance and Administration Kathleen Grimm, P.S. 20 Principal Felix Gil and 85 children from P.S. 20 today to dedicate a new play sculpture that Tom Otterness has donated to the Lower East Side’s ABC Playground. The play sculpture, titled Large Coqui, is a larger-than-life Puerto Rican tree frog with animated facial features. According to the artist, the sculpture’s Puerto Rican theme is a testament to the racial and economic diversity in the neighborhood and an attempt to bridge the cultural differences between residents of the community.

“You can’t help but smile when you see Large Coqui and the little one between her toes...youngsters from P.S. 20 and other visitors to ABC Playground are sure to jump for joy as they climb over her shiny, round body,” said Commissioner Benepe. “Tom Otterness’ playful style lends itself to a perfect stylized yet thoughtful play sculpture...a truly special addition to the playground. We are grateful to him for this donation and for his continued involvement in bringing art into our parks and playgrounds.”

The 5’10” long x 3’10” high x 7’4” wide bronze sculpture is in Otterness’ signature style and based on the coqui, a popular tree frog native to Puerto Rico. Its name comes from the song that the male species often sings that sounds like “ko-kee, ko-kee.” The sculpture, placed at an angle facing nearby benches, gazes out into the neighborhood with its large, expressive eyes. The play sculpture was donated by the artist in honor of P.S. 20 and installed by the NYC School Construction Authority. New safety surfacing was funded by the Otterness Studio, P.S. 20, Sterling National Bank, Sussman Sales, and Fund for Public Schools.

“I’ve lived around the corner from P.S. 20 for 30 years,” said Tom Otterness. “Now I’ll see the kids climbing the mom coqui and hugging the baby every morning when I leave the house—how great is that?”

The name of ABC Playground reflects both its location at the northern edge of Alphabet City and its proximity to P.S. 20, the Anna Silver School. During the 30 years that Otterness has lived in the neighborhood, he has admired the groundbreaking academic programs in art, literature, and technology that P.S. 20’s students and staff engage in every year. Large Coqui is a gift to these students who use the playground every day. Otterness believes the sculpture will remind children of the rich immigrant history that has contributed to the growth of New York City.

“This play sculpture is a symbol of the strength of the immigrant culture in both this neighborhood and the school,” said P.S. 20 Principal Gil. “It is a physical representation of what each of us has brought with us from our home countries to this country and is something that everyone can enjoy.”

Considered one of the premier public artists working in the United States, Tom Otterness has exhibited throughout the nation and abroad since his interest in public art began in the late 1970s. His stylized bronze figures with their rotund bodies and elongated legs combine into sculptural ensembles that explore the range of human experience, from grand ambition to common foibles, plucking imagery and themes from popular culture and subtly transforming them into humorous commentary.

Otterness has exhibited several public art projects in New York City’s parks. Currently on display at one of 40 sites programmed for “Art in the Parks: Celebrating 40 Years” is Large Sad Sphere in Hudson River Park at 23rd Street. The large, hunched figure sits on a block and coincides with Tom Otterness: The Public Unconscious on view at the Marlborough Chelsea through November 3, 2007. In 2004, Tom Otterness on Broadway featured an exhibition of 25 sculptures along the Broadway Malls from Columbus Circle to Washington Heights and in 2003, Otterness’ Free Money sculpture was on display on the Park Avenue Malls at 57th Street. He also has several works on permanent view throughout the city, including the MTA’s commissioned work Life Underground on view primarily in the 14th Street/Eighth Avenue subway station.

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