Thank you, Jeff Kuller, cabinet installer extraordinaire and all-around nice guy, for getting me to LOOK UP at the corner of 8th Avenue and 16th street. What looked like the tops of three gigantic metal flowers poked out from the roof of a nondescript, seven story, dark gray building. There had to be more to this than meets the eye from street level so when I began looking into what I was looking up at, here’s what I found: Burning Man.
Since the early 1990s, the week leading up to Labor Day has been the time for the counterculture arts festival called Burning Man that takes place in the Black Rock Desert, about 120 miles north of Reno, Nevada. Fifty thousand or so “Burners” meet in the desert, build a pop-up city, create enormous art installations and have all-night dance parties. On the closing night, participants burn the 50-foot wooden man they have been building throughout the week. Then they pack up, go back to who they were and where they came from, leaving no trace that they were ever there. This is going on right now!
Five years ago this weekend, one of the Burners was Harlan Berger, a NYC real estate developer. He took a fancy to a piece called “Perhaps” by Los Angeles-based artist and Burner, Rob Bucholz. “Perhaps” is a 5,385 pound, 12-foot tall mosaic tiled vase with three, 34-foot metal daisies happily popping out of it. Harlan bought this super-sized flower display and, in May 2011, had it installed, with the help of a crane, on the roof of his new construction building, dubbed by critics as the Chelsea Death Star, at the intersection of 8th Avenue and W. 16th Street.
You’ve already discerned that Harlan is not your everyday New York City developer. He comes from an artistic family, is a noted collector and had a personal hand in designing the warm, yet futuristic lobby of 305 W 16th Street. While the outside of this monochrome, mono-elevation, building might have earned it the “Death Star” moniker, the interior is modern and inviting. The roof views from above the seventh floor where “Perhaps” has its posh new Chelsea address, overlook the Empire State Building to the north and lush, mature trees from the adjacent Robert Moses-planned pocket park on the west side of the building
Like me, “Perhaps” was born and raised on the west coast, but has found her true home in lower Manhattan, LOOKING UP at the majesty of the Empire State Building every day.