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