Various Artists: Common Ground

About the Exhibition

From the monuments of ancient Egypt to the Statue of Liberty, public art has traditionally been a means to represent a society’s beliefs, values, and ideals. However, in our own diverse culture, today we value art most highly as the expression of a unique individual vision. Common Ground brings together the work of ten international artists, each with a strikingly original artistic voice and a strong engagement with our contemporary culture.

Several works in the exhibition create a dialogue with the history of art, finding new metaphors in traditional forms. For example, there is a recurring interest in the classical statue and the use of stone-carved text. In Common Ground, the civic monument, once dominated by heroic representations of men, is reinvented through the use of abstraction, irony, and satire. Some of the works reflect on the public role of the artist, implying both the transience of life and the desire for timelessness in art. The exhibition also explores the notion of “common” space through language, objects, and performance. Together, all of the very different works in Common Ground remind us that contemporary art offers us both opportunities for personal reflection and shared moments of collective expression.

This exhibition is curated by Nicholas Baume.



City Hall Park

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Featured Artists

Common Ground includes artworks by Elmgreen & Dragset, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Roger Hiorns, Jenny Holzer, Matthew Day Jackson, Christian Jankowski, Justin Matherly, Paul McCarthy, Amalia Pica, and Thomas Schütte.

Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset
It’s Never Too Late To Say Sorry

Vitrine: steel and safety glass; Plinth: granite; Bullhorn: aluminum, 5’x3”x27”x27.” Courtesy Elmgreen & Dragset.

The wide-ranging artistic practice of collaborators Michael Elmgreen (b. 1961, Copenhagen, Denmark) & Ingar Dragset (b. 1968, Trondheim, Norway) includes both architecturally inspired sculptural installations and performance-based works. These interests are brought together in It’s Never Too Late To Say Sorry. Each day for the duration of the exhibition, a performer will visit the minimalist structure that houses an aluminum bullhorn and, according the unpublished instructions of the artists, will activate the work.

Ian Hamilton Finlay
Huius Seculi Constantia Atque Ordo Inconstantia Post Eritatis A St. J

Stone, 18”x6’10”x30.”Courtesy of Melva Bucksbaum and Raymond Learsy.

The late Scottish artist Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925-2006, b. Nassau, Bahamas) is best known for “Little Sparta,” the remarkable garden near Edinburgh filled with sculptures and pavilions that he created with his wife, Sue Finlay, between 1966 and 2006. He was fascinated by the poetic expression of philosophical ideas, often inscribing texts in stone to be placed in garden settings. The text in this work, which he translated into Latin, is credited to Louis de Saint-Just (1767-1794), a leader of the French Revolution. It reads, “The present order is the disorder of the future.”

Roger Hiorns
Untitled (Choir)

Performance, Courtesy of the artist.

Inspired by his experience in the youth choir of his native Birmingham, England, Roger Hiorns (b.1975, Birmingham, England) brings together performers from several New York City youth choirs to sing selections from the classical choral canon.

Jenny Holzer
Truisms: All Things Are Delicately Interconnected…
Truisms: A Strong Sense of Duty…

Danby Royal Marble,
25”x54”x17.” Courtesy of the artist.
Memorial Bench I: Always Polite to Officers…
Memorial Bench II: Eye Cut by Flying Glass…
Indiana Buff Sandstone, 24”x6’x17.” Courtesy of the artist.

These four text-based sculptures exemplify many of the most well-known characteristics of work by Jenny Holzer (b.1950, Gallipolis, Ohio). A pair of marble Truisms benches features the stark and impersonal pronouncements emblematic of this series, while the sandstone Memorial benches betray a more poignant impulse through their first-person poetics. This dialogue between individual and universal is emphasized by their placement in City Hall Park, where they transform a pedestrian thoroughfare into a public space for reflection and conversation.

Matthew Day Jackson
Always Anyone, Anywhere, Anything, Anytime and for Any Reason

Polished stainless steel, 71 5/8” x 19 5/8 “x 19 5/8.” Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

In stark contrast to several nearby bronze monuments to historic figures, Matthew Day Jackson (b.1974, Panorama City, CA) presents an unconventional self-portrait in stainless steel. The artist’s profile from head to toe has been turned 360 degrees to create a highly-polished abstract object. In the process, Jackson transforms an image rooted in the individual into a universal form that might literally reflect anyone.

Christian Jankowski
Common Ground

Polished stainless steel, 71 5/8” x 19 5/8 “x 19 5/8.” Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

This engraved granite stone expresses the artist’s desire to be interred, in the event of his death, on the grounds of City Hall Park. Responding to the exhibition theme, Jankowski’s Common Ground is a meditation on his own mortality, drawing attention to the boundaries between public and private, art and life. By reinventing the traditional idea of the memorial in the most personal terms, Jankowski (b. 1968, Göttingen, Germany) turns his own inevitable passing into a work of public art.

Justin Matherly
New Beaches

oncrete, aluminum walkers, 10’6”x11’x6.’ Courtesy of the artist and Bureau, New York.

The imagery of New Beaches refers to the ancient sculpture, Laocoön and His Sons, which depicts a Trojan priest and his sons being strangled by serpents, and has often been cited as the classical ideal of artistic expression. Justin Matherly (b.1972, West Islip, NY) has adapted a detail of the sculpture, the head and an arm, roughly rendered in cast concrete and enlarged to monumental scale. This colossal fragment is held aloft on an armature of walking frames, which literally provide support to the artist’s contemporary “ruin.”

Paul McCarthy
Daddies Ketchup

Inflatable, 30’x8’x8.’
Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

Much of Paul McCarthy’s work addresses the dynamics between the individual and social institutions, including the family. He draws on popular culture and everyday objects to create works of art that often surprise, delight, and provoke. Where a heroic male figure typical of traditional public sculpture might once have stood, McCarthy (b.1945, Salt Lake City, UT) offers us a giant bottle of Daddies Ketchup. Based on a real brand, this monumental inflatable sculpture is filled with nothing but air.

Amalia Pica
Now, Speak!

Cast Concrete, 59”x47”x47.”
Courtesy of the artist and Marc Foxx.

Amalia Pica’s practice often engages issues of communication, access, interactivity, and public address—concerns shaped by her childhood experiences in an unstable Argentina. With this work, Pica (b. 1978, Neuquén Capital, Argentina) appropriates the familiar form of a speaker’s lectern, recreating it as an artwork in cast concrete. She amplifies its symbolism by placing it in a public space, making it accessible both as a physical object and as a vehicle for communication.

Thomas Schütte
Memorial for Unknown Artist

Bronze with steel base; sculpture, 31”x36”x17,” base: 19”x43”x43.”
Courtesy of the artist and Donald Young Gallery.

Based in Düsseldorf, Germany, Thomas Schütte (b.1954, Oldenburg, Germany) has produced one of the most influential bodies of work in recent sculpture. With characteristic irony, he has created a memorial that celebrates a very common attribution in the history of art: “unknown artist.” The sculpture was made for an exhibition inspired by the legacy of the once forgotten Swiss modernist author Robert Walser, whose writings in microscopic script were admired by Franz Kafka, Walter Benjamin, and others. With exaggerated features, flowing beard and raised hands, Schütte’s figure evokes an idea of the artist as a mythic figure in the popular imagination.