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Governor’s Island NYC: A 5 Minute Ferry Ride to Another World

Mark di Suvero "Mahatma" 1978-1979 Photo by Jerry L Thompson


By Bobbie Leigh

The city bought Governors Island for a dollar in 2003. There probably  has  never been a better deal since the Indians traded Manna-Hattin for beads, cloth, and a few trinkets in  1626.  Formerly a run-down,  dreary, abandoned military base, the 172-acre  island with a prison for Confederate soldiers  today is a dynamic, vibrant, and immensely green destination.

A snap 800 yards from the Battery and  minutes  from lower Manhattan or Brooklyn by ferry,  Governors Island is a great escape  from the urban  canyons of   New York.   It’s not just the panoramic  seascape  that is beguiling, the island is also  a totally family friendly playground. It’s one of the best places in the city  to go for picnics,  miniature golf,  biking, polo,  concerts, circus acts, or just snoozing in the sun on a sandy beach.

To borrow a phrase —- why is this summer at Governors Island different from all other summers? An  entirely new outdoor exhibition— “Mark di Suvero at Governors Island: Presented by Storm King Art Center”  is  a  star attraction.  This summer,  11 monumental sculptures  of high-profile   sculptor  Mark di  Suvero dot  the rolling green lawns.  Each is sited to complement or enhance the views of the Brooklyn and New York harbors  as well as the Statue of Liberty.


Mark di Suvero "Old Buddy (For Rosko)" 1993-1995 Photo by Jerry L Thompson


Di Suvero’s colossal sculptures are made from industrial  and cast  off building materials.  Some are rusty, shiny,  and  vividly painted  in  unfamiliar shapes  and  sizes.  Di Suvero  doesn’t start with sketches or pre-conceived ideas. Instead, he “composes” with  eye beams, cast off wood,  heavy scrap metal and structural steel.   It’s easy to  imagine him in the cab of a crane as he hoists and places each piece, slowly erecting monumental feats of  size and balance.  As  a master welder and crane operator he  does all his own construction —cutting, bolting, bending — in studios in Long Island City and California. No fabrication in China for this 78 year-old artist in spite of the fact that some pieces weigh more than 50,000 pounds and are at least 50-feet high.  The success of the work lies mainly in the way he uses line, texture, odd angles and color to relate all the components.

Each  sculpture  is a challenge to the eye and the  mind. One of the newest of these energetic outdoor works is “Figolu,”  named  after the artist’s favorite  French cookie.  Composed of  vivid tomato red I-beams and three large buoys suspended from a steel cable, it creates a striking silhouette of dense and open spaces  against the open sky.


Mark di Suvero "For Chris" 1991 Photo by Jerry L Thompson.


Di Suvero’s   sculptures appear to be perfectly balanced with a core center of gravity. Projecting,  steel beams and  stainless steel ribbons  glisten in the sun,  swing back and forth or rotate, as if to explore their physical realm.   Although some of the works have  whimsical names  such as “Old Buddy,” dedicated to the artist’s dog   or “For Chris,” a smaller sculpture with a huge clanging bell,  they  don’t appear to  define their subjects although they have a playful  “please touch,”   wind -driven quality.

Governors  Island  has dual “ownership:” 150 acres are managed by the city’s Trust for Governors Island  whose mission is to bring the island back to life and make it a great public space.  The remaining 22 acres are part of the National Park Service.  While you are visiting,  it’s a good idea to  learn  about  the di Suvero works from  various Apps set up for the exhibition:  For the Mobi App  with your smartphone, text “STORM”  to  56512. For the iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, download the App “Storm King” from the iTunes store.  And for the guide via your cell phone, dial 646-205-7614.

The  di Suvero exhibition is  a gift from special donors and  the Storm King Art Center.  Only 90 miles from  Manhattan,  Storm King’s 500-acre rolling hills and grasslands is  the impeccable setting for  about 100 sculptures — Alexander Calder, Isamu Noguchi, Richard Serra, David Smith and di Suvero among many others.

Getting to  the island couldn’t be simpler.  The  ferry leaves from   lower  Manhattan from the Battery Maritime Building in lower Manhattan  and  from Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6.  The ride – totally free of  charge  even if you take your bike — is over before you know it.  For ferry schedules and downloadable maps, go to www.govisland.com.

For directions and a list of programs at Storm King: www.stormking.org

For events, free  Fridays for Kids with Park Rangers at Governors Island: www.nps.gov/gois. For festivals and other special events;  www.governorsislandalliance.org;  bike rentals on the island; www.bikeandroll.co.



Bobbie Leigh has written for many national publications including The Wall Street Journal, Travel & Leisure, and Departures. Currently she is a New York correspondent for Art & Antiques.

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