It used to be that Manhattan’s Central Park was reserved for leisurely Sunday strolls, ultimate Frisbee on the Great Lawn, and narrated carriage rides for out-of-towners. There was a policy to keep public art works out of the park proper leaving public spectacles to be reserved for ‘New Yorkers just being New Yorkers’ and the odd impromptu performance. Ever since Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s saffron-bedecked The Gates and now Olafur Eliasson’s Waterfalls, it seems as if the city is looking for creative ways to build up its financial reserves. We are not sure if Zaha Hadid’s latest Mobile Art pavilion (created as an homage to Chanel’s classic handbag) is the best way for the Central Park Conservancy to boost its programs and plantings, but in this new era of ‘bread and circus’ art and life on the verge of recession, who is really going to fight a posh take on an old classic?
Mobile Art was designed by Pritzker Prize winning, London architect Zaha Hadid and will be installed as a temporary structure at Central Park’s 1.5 acre Tumsey Playfield (midpark at 70th Street) from October 20 to November 9, 2008. It will be the architect’s first New York building – despite its transitory nature. Mobile Art has already been installed in Hong Kong and Tokyo and will travel after New York to London, Moscow, and Paris.
Despite the cool renderings and the ‘artistic mission’ of the project as a hip nomadic gallery, Mobile Art also serves as a pop-up ad for fashion brand Chanel and it’s 2.55 quilted style chain handbag. During its urban stint the pavilion will serve as a mini-museum or gallery to showcase the curated work of fifteen contemporary artists. It is also estimated that Chanel will donate a sum “in the low seven figures” to the Central Park Conservancy as well as a “use fee” of $400,000.
What does all of this have to do with design and sustainability, one might ask, or rather the advancement of conservation via advertisement dollars and feel-good art viewing? We are not really sure frankly. We love the idea of temporary, low-impact structures that dot a landscape and then are packed up for use on a rainy day, but something about Mobile Art seems so incongruous with it’s setting. Perhaps that’s the fun of it, one might argue? Lighten up, design is meant to transport us and ‘pull on our purse strings’. It is speculated that funds donated for the project will be used to enhance the horticulture of the park in specific zones north of 85th Street. Access to the pavilion’s galleries will also be free, though reservations will be encouraged via chanel-mobileart.com.
Even as a roving installation for global cities, isn’t this a missed opportunity to view transportable architecture as being an exemplary paradigm for how to design sustainably and with contextualization and reflection? Container architecture can be a good thing, but if art remains art, fashion remains fashion, and the environment is simply a stage for the global feast, we still have a ways to go when it comes to creative sponsorship married with true stewardship.