Starting July 1, Public Art Fund and 14-18 NOW will present Flow Separation, a new exhibition by New York-based artist Tauba Auerbach in which the historic Fireboat John J. Harvey will be painted in a contemporary ‘dazzle camouflage’ pattern. Throughout the summer and fall, the dazzled fireboat, currently docked at Pier 66a in Hudson River Park, will be anchored at various docks around New York Harbor and on weekends will offer free, timed trips for the public, continuing John J. Harvey’s 18-year tradition since her retirement as a working fireboat. Auerbach’s work draws inspiration from the unlikely vibrant camouflage designs painted on ships that crossed the Atlantic during World War I. Developed by British painter Norman Wilkinson, the designs were characterized by bold, high-contrast patterns that would distort the ships, confusing enemy submarines tracking their distance, direction and speed. Taking cues from both animal camouflage and avant-garde movements such as Cubism, Futurism and Vorticism, the geometric forms inspired generations of abstract artists that followed. For Auerbach’s contemporary design, the exterior of the fireboat will be painted with two patterns that the artist generated through the intricate process of marbling paper. Treating this decorative art as a visualization of the physics of “fluid dynamics,” Auerbach’s dazzle incorporates the movement and behavior of water into its design. Maintaining the John J. Harvey’s red and white palette, Flow Separation will foreground the history of dazzle’s emphasis on confusing as opposed to hiding. This is Auerbach’s first major public art commission and the first time Public Art Fund has partnered with a boat to realize a new exhibition.
The work is co-commissioned by Public Art Fund, New York City’s leading presenter of dynamic outdoor art free of charge to the public, and 14-18 NOW, the United Kingdom’s award-winning public arts program commemorating the centenary of World War I. Since 2014, 14-18 NOW has commissioned new work by more than 200 leading contemporary artists across all art forms, including the presentation of four Dazzle Ships throughout the U.K. Auerbach’s dazzled vessel is the first U.S.-based ship and the final vessel in the series before the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I on November 11, 2018.
“We are thrilled to be working with 14-18 NOW to bring a contemporary Dazzle Ship to New York Harbor, an artwork that blends this fascinating history of painterly abstraction and technology, together with innovation and design," says Public Art Fund Adjunct Curator Emma Enderby. "The various techniques that Auerbach experiments with as a painter and designer — often exploring perception and dimensionality — make her the ideal artist to dazzle the historic Fireboat John J. Harvey with her conceptual and visual interpretation.”
Jenny Waldman, CBE, Director of 14-18 NOW, said, “14-18 NOW was established in the conviction that contemporary artists can open new perspectives not only on the present, but also the past. Starting in 2014, with the centenary of the beginning of World War I, our arts commissions have connected millions of people in the U.K. with the magnitude and horror of the Great War, and how this epochal conflict continues to affect so much in our lives today. Now, as we approach the centenary of the Armistice, we are proud to bring a roster of commissions to the United States, beginning with Tauba Auerbach’s brilliant addition to our ongoing series of Dazzle Ships. We are deeply grateful to our co-commissioner Public Art Fund, and to Bloomberg Philanthropies for making it possible to offer this extraordinary experience to New Yorkers and their visitors from around the world.”
Tauba Auerbach works across various mediums including painting, photography, sculpture, language and more, playing with material, form, color, perception, typography, and systems. As a former sign painter, she has an enduring interest in the histories, traditions, and technologies of painting, continuing to use them in new ways. Over the past five years, she has investigated ornamental archetypes and has observed and catalogued these designs in pre-historic paintings, architecture, and textiles, as well as in snapshots of dynamic motion, in the form of rivers and on the skeletons of coral. With Flow Separation, Auerbach expands on this interest, drawing inspiration from the rhythmic designs found in the wake patterns left behind objects moving through water. Auerbach created the design through the laborious and gestural process of marbling — floating inks on a fluid bath and dragging various combs through them before transferring them on to paper — resulting in a design that has innumerable unique variables. Auerbach will densely and meticulously paint the surfaces of the Fireboat John J. Harvey including the deck, hull, and doors with two red and white marbled patterns flowing in opposite directions, creating a one-of-a-kind, dynamic motif.
Artist, Tauba Auerbach said, "With Flow Separation, I didn't want to ignore the John J. Harvey's identity, so I took the boat's usual paint job and scrambled it. Dragged a comb through it. The palette also exaggerates the fact that “dazzle” was more about confusing and outsmarting, than about hiding. I like those instances where cleverness is an antidote to brute force."
Visitors will be able to experience the new commission in a number of ways across the city. From July through late September, it will be docked at two locations: Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6 and Hudson River Park’s Pier 25. On weekends, the public will be able to board the boat to experience the dazzled design up close, and free timed trips around different parts of New York Harbor from each location will be offered, creating a special experience with a contemporary artwork and historic vessel. Auerbach’s commission will also participate in iconic events throughout the season, including the annual New York City Tugboat Race on September 2, and will travel north up the Hudson River to meet a historical dazzle ship in Albany, NY. During the winter and spring months, the boat will be docked at its home location at Hudson River Park’s Pier 66a in Chelsea and will act as a floating sculpture that the public may view from land or water. Visitors will be able to reserve tickets starting June 25. For more information about locations and to reserve tickets, visit PublicArtFund.org.
Patricia E. Harris, CEO of Bloomberg Philanthropies, a major sponsor of the series and longtime supporter of Public Art Fund, said, "We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to access the arts, and are thrilled to be able to support Public Art Fund and 14-18 NOW on this historic and ambitious exhibition. Public art projects such as Flow Separation contribute to a city’s vitality, identity, and quality of life, while also bringing people from all backgrounds together through shared experiences. Tauba Auerbach's exhibition will transform New York's urban waterways, allowing communities to experience familiar places in exciting and new ways.”
The exhibition is curated by Public Art Fund Adjunct Curator Emma Enderby.
Flow Separation is co-commissioned by Public Art Fund and 14-18 NOW: WWI Centenary Art Commissions, part of the Dazzle Ship series co-commissioned with Liverpool Biennial and supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies.