New York

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 April, 2007, 12:00am

What's going on around the globe

Art is breaking out of the galleries and taking over New York. The city's egalitarian streak has always made it receptive to public art - free works that are displayed in parks and spaces around the city.

Visitors may have noticed the sonic installation at 34th Street station that allows waiting passengers to communicate with each other by electronically controlled sounds. Others may remember 2000, when artists were invited to express their feelings about New York through the medium of fibreglass cows on the city's streets.

The first stop on my storm-lashed tour of the city's current public art is Bryant Park, an urban oasis that's attached to the grand New York Public Library. Here, amid pots of bluebells and daffodils, some intriguing sculptures by Manolo Valdes can be found. Valdes is one of Spain's top artists, although he's less well-known outside his native country. He's a painter and sculptor and, like Canadian Jeff Wall (whose works are on show at the Museum of Modern Art), he combines a post-modern style with a strong interest in art history.

His show on Bryant Park's Upper Terrace consists of four monumental sculptures based on figures from Diego Velazquez's Las Meninas. That work, which was painted in 1656, depicts the Infanta Margarita, the daughter of King Philip IV of Spain, with her ladies-in-waiting. Valdes has taken the pose of Margarita, who's wearing a voluminous hoop dress, as the inspiration for his four huge bronze sculptures. Positioned amid tables and chairs, and overlooking a pretty - if rain-sodden - lawn, the imposing, faceless figures cast a regal dominance over libertarian New York.

Four more equally imposing works by Valdes reside at the other end of the park. These sculptures (below) depict huge female heads with striking hair-dos. One haircut is made of twisty, heavy duty wire. It's reminiscent of diagrams that describe the makeup of an atom. Another hair-do consists of rectangular lengths of metal and looks like a post-modern tribal carving. By now my own hair doesn't look much better, as I'm completely soaked, so I head into the subway and take a train to the Rockefeller Centre.

Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi has his own museum in New York, but he has never exhibited his 1981 work, Thunder Rock, in the city before. It's currently showing at the Rockefeller's Rock Plaza, but even a one-ton piece of carved granite is diminished by the immensity of the Rockefeller Centre.

Worse, the effect of Noguchi's rock is lessened by a row of giant topiary Easter bunnies that have been placed behind it. In spite of its name, Thunder Rock looks desolate in the rain.