This summer, Hudson River Park’s landscaping expanded beyond its popular jogging and biking path to make it a more immersive place. While most of the park’s improvements in the past few years have converted its rotting piers to playgrounds and lawns, the newest section—a 4.6-acre swath starting just above Chambers Street and continuing to the contested Pier 40 parking garage and playing fields at Houston Street—includes three sculptures by Williamsburg artist Mark Gibian that endow the segment with a fittingly nautical mood.
The three pieces, which Gibian sculpted in Plattekill, New York, twist galvanized pipe into shapes that bend like fanciful boats or enormous fish. The first, a short, 1,000-pound bench, was installed on June 16 and helps anchor the new section of the waterfront promenade, which includes a boardwalk just upland of the main walkway. The other two pieces, 12 and 16 feet tall, underscore the park’s celebration of local ecology.
“The idea was to have pieces relate to each other over space and time as you walk,” said Gibian, who designed similar work for the Northside Piers condo on Williamsburg’s waterfront. “We will eventually have plants growing on the units so they will change with seasons and have life,” he added.
Here, Gibian’s pieces serve an effort by the Hudson River Park Trust to lure visitors onto the piers that make the site unique (and uniquely expensive to build). “While the park attracts 17 million visitors a year, I think most people experience it as a strip of greenery adjacent to the West Side Highway,” said Trust chairperson Diana Taylor at a recent press event. So the new phases, including nearby Piers 25 and 26, still under construction, abound with activities, which Taylor listed: “a playground, practice field, mini-golf and snack bar, beach volleyball, historic ships, skate park, basketball, boathouse and café, estuary research center, dog run, tennis, and public art.”
The public art affirms the maritime roots of the park’s new, $16.3 million segment, which was designed by landscape architects Sasaki Associates and Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects. “They wanted to emphasize an estuarine environment,” Gibian told AN. “You don’t have to do much to these forms I was already making, to make them evocative of fish forms.”
While Gibian runs and bikes on the park’s path, he said his new work is oriented toward the water. “Those piers are a tremendous opportunity to reflect the needs of adjacent neighborhoods,” he said. The Trust plans to solicit development proposals this year for the 300,000-square-foot Pier 57, and settle on a mixed-use strategy for the 15-acre Pier 40. With millions to raise and a softening economy, it had better hope Gibian’s work strikes a chord.