Maya Lin’s surreal Ghost Forest drew plenty of gawkers both online and in-person when it debuted earlier this May, transplanting a forest ravaged by saltwater intrusion from New Jersey’s Pine Barrens to Madison Square Park in Manhattan. Though Lin’s work is open through mid-November, the Madison Square Park Conversancy has already announced its successor: Brier Patch, a similarly wide-ranging piece by artist and sculptor Hugh Hayden.
Opening on January 18, 2022, Brier Patch will bring 100 intertwined wood desks to the park. Spread out across 3,600 square feet, the tangled sculpture will link each desk with branches, creating a brier patch reminiscent of the linked superorganisms that share roots below the soil.
“In Hugh Hayden’s project,” said Brooke Kamin Rapaport, deputy director and Martin Friedman Chief Curator of Madison Square Park Conservancy, in a press statement, “the overgrown configuration of branches overwhelms and encumbers the placidity of seats of childhood learning. Hayden imbues each of his works with intense meaning that, when peeled back, reveals lived experiences about rooted systems in our country and the world. He transforms everyday objects into new composite forms that expose the properties and background of the original source. Brier Patch is both visually powerful and loaded with inherent tensions-growth and stagnation, seduction and peril, individual and community-that ask us to consider how these dichotomies coexist in society and the work.”
Brier patches have historically been a place of danger and protection in folklore and ecology alike, and the sculptural installation of the same name transplants that history onto the American education system. The Dallas-born and New York–based Hayden has arranged the combination desks–and–chairs in a grid that, while common in classrooms, is also reminiscent of a graveyard—albeit disrupted by the unifying branches.
Hayden’s experimental commentary on education, solidarity, and disparity of opportunities in the American education system will be on view through April 24, 2022. Brier Patch is the 42nd site-specific public art installation commissioned by the conservancy since 2004.