Hudson Yards adorned with art to last beyond ‘anyone’s lifetime’

The biggest and most expensive piece is Thomas Heatherwick’s US$150m ‘Vessel’

by Katya Kazakina

Billionaire Stephen Ross didn’t hire an advisor to select artists for the nation’s largest private development. He made the call himself.

The Related Cos chairman, whose US$25 billion (RM103.25 billion) Hudson Yards will be officially inaugurated in March, is filling his giant blank canvas by tapping artists including Frank Stella, Jaume Plensa and Joel Shapiro to create large-scale sculptures that will adorn New York’s newest skyscrapers.

The biggest and most expensive piece is Thomas Heatherwick’s US$150 million “Vessel” — a 16-storey latticework with 2,500 individual steps and 80 landings.

“Being successful with any kind of development, it really is a series of details,” Ross, 78, said in an interview.

“There’s no detail you want to overlook. You can have a great-looking building, but if you don’t add a sculpture, if you don’t add landscape, it’s just another place.”

Using the Related buildings to showcase the artists he admires is not new for Ross. Two corpulent, larger-than-life, bronze nudes — “Adam and Eve” — stand sentry in the lobby of the Time Warner Centre at Columbus Circle.

Workers installing Plensa’s sculpture at Hudson yards

The duo by Fernando Botero, one of the artists whose works Ross collects, have developed a visible patina as a result of constant caressing by the public.

As a developer, Ross said he’s especially drawn to sculpture and its 3D form.

“It creates something that’s a lot more powerful,” he said. “A painting, it’s so static. You get bored by it.”

As a developer, Ross says he’s especially drawn to sculptures

On a blustery afternoon last month, Ross stopped by 30 Hudson Yards, where a 7,500 sq ft observation deck protrudes from the 100th floor of a building that will be occupied by employees of KKR & Co Inc, Wells Fargo & Co and WarnerMedia, among others.

He came to check up on the installation of Plensa’s “Voices”, a group of 11 hollow, steel spheres that will be suspended from the ceiling.

Works by the Spanish sculptor, known for enormous marble and metal heads with closed eyes, are prized by museums and billionaire collectors, dotting public gardens and plazas worldwide.

Ross said he recently bought a 14ft steel head for his “backyard” by the ocean in Palm Beach, Florida.

A new unique cast-iron work of this size costs US$875,000, according to Richard Grey Gallery, which represents the artist in Chicago.

The stainless steel spheres at 30 Hudson Yards are made of interlocking letters from eight alphabets, including Cyrillic, Latin and Chinese.

Two were already suspended in midair when Ross visited on Jan 16, gleaming softly as they captured the colour of a 33ft-tall limestone wall nearby.

Works by Plensa are prized by museums and billionaire collectors

A dozen workers in hard hats and orange construction vests were assembling the third orb, segment by segment, with the help of a forklift, hooks and cables.

The spheres range in size, weighing 400lbs (181.43kg) to 5,000lbs. Their fabrication took more than a year, according to the artist.

“I’ve been working a lot in public space, but never did a lobby,” said Plensa, 64, who travelled to New York to monitor the installation. “The building is the body and my piece is the soul.”

The public will encounter the spheres on two levels connected by escalators, some entering the lobby on the ground floor directly from the subway.

“The people will be part of the sculpture,” Plensa said. “Because the escalator will be moving them up or down and it will change their relation with the piece at every moment. That’s the key of the project: To transform the escalator into something magic.”

A 3D composition of colourful rectangles by Shapiro, an American, is displayed in the lobby of 15 Hudson Yards, a residential tower with an 88th-floor penthouse available for US$32 million.

Stella, who had an acclaimed exhibition at the Whitney Museum in 2015-16, will create two abstract sculptural installations for the lobby of 50 Hudson Yards, a commercial tower with future tenants including BlackRock Inc.

The works of painted steel, aluminium and fibreglass will echo the elements of their environment when the building is completed in 2022.

“As a developer you want to do things that are impactful, that people will enjoy forever,” Ross said, “because it will last beyond anyone’s lifetime”. — Bloomberg