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Thursday, May 09, 2013
No. 45

A Marble Tree Grows On Allen Street

culpture by Kent Henricksen on view through October 2013

NYC Parks & Recreation announces the exhibition of New York artist Kent Henricksen’s public artwork for the Allen Street Malls entitled, We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. Located on the north side of Grand Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the piece is part of a series known as the Ghost Trees. The installation, part of NYC Parks’ Art in the Parks program, consists of a large white marble tree trunk with text carved into the surface planted among the trees on the recently renovated pedestrian mall. The piece stands 91 inches tall with a diameter of 14 inches at the base. The exhibition is on view through October 2013.

“New York City parks are home to hundreds of traditional monuments and sculptures made in marble,” said NYC Parks Commissioner Veronica M. White. “Kent breathes new life into this historic medium and uses it in a fascinating and contemporary way.”

The title of the piece references the arborglyph that is carved into the trunk, We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. This message, hand written as if scribbled in a moment of inspiration or passion, comes from a character in Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan. The character, Lord Darlington, speaks about an unfulfilled desire, and his inability to give up on his pursuit of a married woman. Carved on the tree trunk, the quote’s meaning is more ambiguous and left up to the viewer to interpret. Referencing petrified forests or burnt landscapes after a forest fire, Ghost Trees appropriates from a range of literary and historical sources, imbuing these works with a narrative and memory of past lives, environments and ideas.

Henricksen began incorporating carved text into his sculptural work in the spring of 2009. He says, “I started thinking about the ideas of trees and their symbolism with life and growing. Trees often outlive humans and live through generations. Carving messages in trees keeps ideas and experiences alive. Trees also hold a personal connection with me as well, as a child growing up near the woods I often carved my initials into trees, marking my existence. Tree carving also has other symbolic roots, in the Chatham Islands the indigenous Moriori people practiced the art of momori rakau (tree carving) through symbols and text as a ritual possibly associated with death or remembrance.”

Henricksen continues the strong tradition of using language and text in art. More specifically, he expands upon the use of carved text in marble, a traditional and classical art material, bringing to mind the work of Jenny Holzer. Holzer’s carved marble plaques and benches have been placed in the public domain for decades (seen most recently in City Hall Park in 2012. Her contemporary use of this medium with the textual use of words and ideas in a public space perpetuated a new troupe in contemporary art, in which Henricksen participates.

As Grace Glueck states in The New York Times article about art and language:

“... use of written language in art, starting in the early 1900's with the introduction by Picasso and Braque of words and letters drawn from newspapers, signboards and posters into their Cubist paintings. Forming part of the elaborate interplay of spatial and formal elements in these artists' work, the collaged words were meant to reflect their actual presence in the urban environment. In the 1960's, many artists - influenced by other disciplines and the proliferation of signs and graphics in the environment - began to explore the use of words in more aggressive ways. The pre-Pop stars Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg used them in their work as both visual elements and private signs, and in the ensuing Pop period, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist and Ed Ruscha actively took their cues from the culture at large, either mocking or celebrating the cliches of advertising and the media.

An important presence, too, in the 60's and 70's were the Conceptual artists, among them, Joseph Kosuth, Lawrence Weiner, John Baldessari, Douglas Huebler, Hanne Darboven and others. Opposed to the ''elite'' concept of art as collectible object, they ''dematerialized'' it by making language a part of its formal content. Diagrams, charts, definitions and documentations often accompanied their - largely photographic - work.”

Henricksen retools the ideas in text-based art by adding a broader, literary sphere in this new series that historicizes the work of his predecessors. We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars overwhelms the viewer in both scale and materiality, allowing for the piece to invoke and address the mechanics of memory and time in the urban landscape of the Lower East Side.

Kent Henricksen has had solo exhibitions with Paul Kasmin, New York; John Connelly Presents, New York; Hiromi Yoshii, Tokyo; Arario Gallery, Seoul; Galleria Glance, Torino; c/o – Atle Gerhardsen, Berlin; and Mario Diacano, Boston. His works have been exhibited in The Gold Standard (2006) and Greater New York (2005) at PS 1 Museum of Contemporary Art; ARS 06, Museum of Contemporary Art KIASMA, Helsinki, Finland Crafty, curated by Lisa Tung, Sandra and David Bakalar Gallery, Massachusetts College of Art, Boston, and Pricked: Extreme Embroidery, at the Museum of Art and Design, New York. Henricksen recently exhibited a solo project Wayward We Hunt at the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach. His work is the permanent collections of the Brooklyn Museum, the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington D.C. and the Harvard University Fogg Museum, Boston.

NYC Parks & Recreation’s Art in the Parks program has consistently fostered the creation and installation of temporary public art in parks throughout the five boroughs. Since 1967, collaborations with arts organizations and artists have produced hundreds of public art projects in New York City parks. For more information visit

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