Happiness is just ahead…
That’s what the flyer promises. And I do believe it delivers, even if the happiness is fleeting. As I make my way to the one time parking lot, now large scale outdoor art installation on the corner of 30th Street and 10th Avenue in New York City, I can hear, even from a distance, the squeals of delight of little children. And I can see huge, brightly colored inflatable structures floating above the blue and white striped fence that surrounds the space. The 16,000 square feet lot has been transformed by the art collective FriendsWithYou, in partnership with AOL, into “Rainbow City,” an interactive art exhibit filled with ten to forty foot air-filled sculptures on a green and white stripped floor, creating a dream-like landscape amidst the grey buildings and streets of the city.
FriendsWithYou was established in 2002 by Miami-based artists Samuel Borkson and Arturo Sandoval III, and has since created experiential installations in Berlin and Art Basel Miami. A sign upon entering Rainbow City proclaims it is “a place of magic, luck and friendship.” That is a big claim, but the space certainly does have an other-worldly quality, and one cannot deny that there are more smiles per person than usual in here. The forty piece environmental installation opened in June in celebration of Section 2 of the High Line, an elevated public park created on an old freight train track. Huge oval shaped striped balloons bob and twirl in the wind, while a kids and adults alike are encouraged to bounce around inside a smiling inflatable mushroom. A blue and white striped character with a long nose rises above the rest, creating a funny juxtaposition with the surrounding buildings. The pieces are designed to encourage interaction, creating a surreal landscape, intended to let children play and reconnect adults with their inner child.
“The creators are all about interacting with art, playing with it. People love it. They want it to be here year round. They think it’s magical,” said staff member Marc Bonanni.
A tired looking mother agreed, though I think she would have preferred if it kept her kids’ attention for longer than it did. “It’s a nice oasis in the middle of the city, but the excitement only lasted so long,” she said.
From the people I talk to in this brightly colored exhibition, I gather it has largely been a planned destination, but I think the true fun is stumbling upon it unexpectedly, like I did; my world going from a solid grey reality to a surreal balloon filled wonderland in just a few steps. It is already gone… being around for only a month from June 8 until July 5 this summer. Next time I go back there, something else will be in its place, making me wonder, I am sure, if I dreamed up the whole thing. As I leave, back into my concrete world it is with a kick in my step and a smile on my face, though it feels almost as if the whole thing could have been my imagination. I don’t look back, just in case.