Joan Grubin explains "Portal" to Leni

Joan Grubin explains "Portal" to Leni

I love the Mid-Manhattan Library on West 40th and Fifth Avenue, the poor  cousin to the 1911, iconic lion flanked  and landmarked white-marble Beaux-Arts revival Research Library building, across the street… which at times is referred to as the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, and more recently as the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building designed by Carrère and Hastings.

The Mid-Manhattan Library, the destination of many a 4th floor  picture research foray,  is a limestone and granite building built in 1915.   In 1961 New York Public Library set its sights on 455 Fifth Avenue, and in 1970, the Mid-Manhattan officially opened — on the fourth through sixth floors above the The Arnold Constables Department Store.   In 1982 Mid-Manhattan took possession of the entire building, renovated by Artist/Architect Giorgio Cavaglieri. Today Mid-Manhattan  houses the largest circulating and reference collections in NYPL’s branches.

On Thursday early evening, the Light Projects staff and I walked over to the library, through Bryant Park, to visit Joan Grubin’s “Portal“, a perception-popping window installation.


Joan’s work is an adventure of paper, paint and light.  Her studies in reflection and texture have, in these public pieces, literally and optically deepened – the color and cut-outs lead the viewer to assume spatial relationships that change depending on vantage point and ambient light.

As we approached the library, the Portals glowed strongly, activated by the new 1 Bryant Park building as it reflected its urban beam of light onto the paper works.

Why worship?  Several years ago, arms filled with books and videos, I asked the clerk, “How many books may I check out”.  She answered sweetly, “As many as you need”.  It was then I fell in love with this generous mecca on Fifth Avenue.

Public Art New York

Jean Parker Phifer, author and Francis Dzikowski, photographer have published a useful and inspiring guide to permanent public art in NYC.

Light Projects’ illumination of the Coney Island Parachute Jump is presented with a beautiful magic-hour photograph.

…the iridescent lighting keyed to the seasons of the year and to special holidays has renewed the neighborhood’s appreciation of its delightful and colorful past.

The project brings renewed focus and artful celebration to a previously neglected remnant of recreational infrastructure.

The book is located in bookstores near you or on Amazon.

A Spatial Portrait - Site

In 2005, New Jersey’s waterside Liberty Science Center’s Great Hall building design was substantially underway. A revitalized science mission, education and exhibitry had been developed as well as a new entry lobby for the museum.

Liberty Science Center’s curator and architect had a temporary site set aside for public art: a large wall over the ticket counter. They had envisioned a two-dimensional digital artwork.

My response to the Liberty Science Center challenge was to “pull” the artwork location off the wall and into the spatial environment A Spatial Portrait - Detail 2of the new Science Court.

Supported by Light Projects’ staff industrial designer Courtney Hewitt and architect Ute Besenecker, my studio commenced concept brainstorming and three-dimensional virtual modeling. I envisioned an active hybrid of art, science and play—typified by Picasso’s portrait of Dora Marr, the Eames 1961 exhibit, Mathematica: A World of Numbers—especially the ping-pong balls of probability and Qubic, the 1970’s transparent dimensional checkers game (a layered set of clear Plexiglas boards upon and through which three-dimensional Tic-Tac-Toe was played). The Picasso portrait is an amalgam of various views and cubistic stacking of the subject. Analogously, we intended to expose the visitor’s figure through a fragmented pixilated display. Through random movement of objects the Eames’s probability exhibit demonstrated an expected result of probability, inspiring me to utilize probable visitor traffic patterns in our own interactive artwork.

Mathematica Exhibit  1961

Mathematica Exhibit 1961

Ed Purver, an interactive video designer, came on board to add a rich new layer of possibility. From here, we were able to communicate our ideas of interaction, color palette and spatial form and see them come to life.

Reflecting upon and reinterpreting the Liberty Science Center’s doctrine that every person’s actions affect everyone else on the planet—and conversely how global changes affect each one of us—the installation captures the movement of every visitor as they circulate throughout the Science Court. The composite of multiple visitor movements creates an ever-changing, three-dimensional “spatial portrait” suspended in the mid-space of the Court, eleven feet above the floor. From multiple positions in the Court, sensors and video cameras track visitors’ movements. Through digital processing and switching, this information is translated and transformed into the artwork.  In sections, floating from the ceiling, hangs 108 strands of eight-foot LED-light pendants—a dazzling show of light in real time, with each and every visitor contributing an element to the spatial portrait.

The information displayed in the LED array consists of three different programming concepts each offering a different interpretation of the movement in the Science Court. These concepts are defined in the following ways:

Dora Marr  Pablo Picasso, 1941

Dora Marr Pablo Picasso, 1941

Figurative The figurative concept marks the entry of visitors into the Science Court. Visitors’ colors, shapes and movements are captured by avideo camera at a designated area close to the main entrance. This visual information is pixilated, reassembled and fed into the LED array—and is viewable from multiple vantage points in the Court. Like a three-dimensional mirror of light, the interacting visitors and other occupants of the space may view a low-resolution depiction of their actions displayed in real-time. As they gather, perform and playswirling a scarf, waving hands, dancing around with friendsthe visitors interact with and alter their oversized representation in the spatial field. The figurative concept is the dominant program and continues to be active as long as there are people standing in the designated location interacting with the camera.

Qubic  Parker Brothers 1960-70’s

Qubic Parker Brothers 1960-70’s

Diagrammatic The diagrammatic concept celebrates the passing of time and movement in the Science Court. Cameras positioned around the LED array track visitors’ presence throughout the Court’s monitored area. As people move through the space, their progress is tracked—drawn into the spatial field above and represented in two preselected colors, orange and white. Through digital comparison of the crowd-circulation patterns and associated X-Y coordinates, visual data from the floor is scaled down to the smaller size of the artwork’s display field and extruded up into the sculpture. Vivid bursts of color are displayed in the LED array when people cross paths during a set period of time. The content of this colorful burst consists of processed pre-recorded video of the Hoberman Sphere cycle—a kinetic sculpture suspended nearby. Added sparkle originating in the video’s inherent fractal noise energizes the resultant visual sequence.

Quiet Time
Whereas the figurative program celebrates the visitors’ entry into the space and the diagrammatic program celebrates their movement throughout the space, the Quiet Time program celebrates the sculptural dialogue with the Hoberman Sphere located nearby. During the quiet moments, as the Science Court awaits its next round of visitors, the LED spatial array displays the expansion and contraction of the Hoberman Sphere. Through pre-recorded black and white video of the Sphere—shimmering with the variegated color palette—the imagery reinforces the quietness of the space by visually resonating in concert with the Sphere.