The Big Apple has a British flavour this spring, beyond the Frieze New York banners that have sprouted on Manhattan lampposts and the launch of London-based Lisson Gallery’s new space beneath the High Line. The British artists Cornelia Parker and Martin Creed have taken on the city's skyline with major public art commissions on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Rachel Whiteread's concrete cast of a New England shed is due to be unveiled on Governor's Island in July. And the Whitney Museum of American Art has devoted its fifth floor to the London-born artist Steve McQueen, who is showing the video End Credits about the African American singer and actor Paul Robeson’s FBI files (until 14 May).
Meanwhile, there is a throng of British artists with gallery shows in New York, including David Hockney at Pace, Antony Gormley at Sean Kelly Gallery, Tracey Emin at Lehmann Maupin (all until 18 June), Susie MacMurray at Danese/Corey (until 21 May), and Allen Jones at Michael Werner (until 4 June). At Frieze New York, Gagosian Gallery's stand (B61) is devoted to works by Damien Hirst, the gallery and artist having reunited after their conscious uncoupling in 2012.
“If you make it here as an artist, you can make it anywhere,” says Sean Kelly (C35), who sold Gormley's sculpture Daze II (2014), priced at £350,000, at the fair's VIP opening on Wednesday. "New York is still the capital of the art world. In fact, it's still the most exciting and vital city in the world. And definitely the richest also. Antony Gormley feels that he has to put his best foot forward when he shows here, as do all great artists," Kelly says.
It is no coincidence that Parker, Creed and Whiteread have made the most of the opportunity to create site-specific work for New York. Sheena Wagstaff, who leads the Modern and contemporary art department at the Met and co-curates the Met Breuer, says: “All of them from the beginning of their careers have created work for public spaces in a very self-conscious way that are tied to the local and national culture.” Although wary of the cliché about America’s can-do spirit, she says that there is a "responsiveness to new ideas and an embrace of artists who come with quite different propositions" for public art in New York.
Wagstaff credits non-profit organisations that commission international artists, such as Creative Time and the Public Art Fund. "They have become adept at moving around the bureaucracy of the city, just like Artangel in Britain,” she says.
On Tuesday, the Public Art Fund unveiled Creed’s largest public work so far: Work No. 2630—Understanding, a 25ft-tall rotating red neon sign in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Nicholas Baume, the fund’s director and chief curator, stresses that it is a tall order to “pull off a major work in an iconic New York location. It will be seen by millions of people, and by many more via social media; the exposure is exponential.”
London’s Frith Street Gallery (C54), which represents Cornelia Parker, has brought the British coastline to Randalls Island. A Side of England (1999) is a 30ft section of Beachy Head that the artist has turned into a “suspended drawing”. It sold to a major US collector. Parker says that, for artists, “a museum show is important [in New York]; so are curators and collectors. It is all a bit chicken and egg.”
It is not just foreign artists who are making statements in New York's public spaces. A big, yellow, monosyllabic sculpture by Brooklyn-based Deborah Kass, who is represented by Paul Kasmin Gallery (C16), will remain on view under the Manhattan Bridge in Brooklyn throughout the summer. Sheena Wagstaff says: “Kass's OY/YO is important. Like Martin's Understanding, it can be seen from a distance. They put the seed of a question in the minds of people who see them, once or every day."