— Art in Common

Forrest Myers, The Wall, 1973

Few works of public art in New York are both as famous and as invisible as The Wall, on the north face of 599 Broadway. Even true-blue lovers of minimalism or longstanding SoHo denizens might find it tough to remember the name of the artist who created it: Forrest Myers, a.k.a. “Frosty,” who moved to the neighborhood back when the only place to get a drink was Fanelli’s (still a favorite of mine). Myers showed at the Park Place Gallery, directed by the one and only Paula Cooper; when she opened her own space, he came with her. Like everyone else, though, he has since bailed SoHo for Williamsburg, and his work tends more to design than fine art these days.

The Wall went up in 1973, its 42 seafoam green pylons protruding from a field of blue eight stories tall. It became an icon of SoHo, but as it aged and as the neighborhood gentrified, successive landlords tried to junk the installation and throw up advertising. In 2002, over substantial protest, the work was dismantled – but in one of the very few happy endings in the ongoing art v. real estate wars, Myers and the landlord struck a deal. The building would get a few new stories, Myers’s work would be reinstalled higher than before, and the landlord would advertise only at street level. Good enough. Not only does The Wall now look better than ever; unlike before, it’s now illuminated at night, and when you’re gunning down Houston, or more frequently sitting in traffic, it’s a sight to behold.

Minimalism and its related movements have become such contested terrain. But one of the glories of The Wall is how it reminds us of the movement’s geographical center, its genesis among artists in concert and not in isolation. The rise of minimalism and, after, the “dematerialization of the art object” corresponded with a sea change in the way the art world constituted itself, and the real tool to figure out what was going on then might not be theory but sociology. (This was the implicit argument of Ann Goldstein’s exhibition A Minimal Future?, seen in 2004 at MoCA: that high minimalism, postminimalism, conceptualism, and process art really aren’t so different from one another.) Of course minimalism these days is now, primarily, the lingua franca of the memorial, and perhaps that is the best way to think of The Wall: as a memorial for another SoHo, another New York, where everyone knew everyone and where art’s existence outside of commerce was not such an exception.

The Wall is on the façade of 599 Broadway, facing Houston Street. There are also some nice works by Myers up at Storm King.