Six new sculptures were installed across Madison Square Park’s central Oval Lawn, peripheral lawns, and northern reflecting pool.Delirious Matter is the artist’s first major public art project.
Artist Diana Al-Hadid (American, b. Aleppo, Syria 1981, lives and works in Brooklyn) created newly commissioned sculptures in Madison Square Park. Two wall works combined with rows of hedges to form a room suggesting the elegiac beauty of deteriorating structures nestled into plant material. Three reclining female figures, titled Synonym, sit on plinths and will be displayed on the surrounding lawns. In the Park’s reflecting pool, the artist will realize a site-specific sculptural bust of a female figure perched atop a fragmented mountain. Al-Hadid is best known for creating work using traditional and contemporary sculpture materials and processes in unfamiliar ways that pivot amongst architecture, figuration, and abstraction. Despite the eroded appearance, the process is additive. Al-Hadid devised a distinctive process that is, in her words, “a blend between fresco and tapestry.”Delirious Matter is the first project by the artist and the first Conservancy commission to unite sculpture with plant materials.
Al-Hadid draws influences from the disrupted typologies of architecture, antiquity, cosmology, and Old Master paintings. She finds inspiration in numerous and varied sources such as ancient frescoes, caves, Northern Renaissance art, Islamic miniatures, ancient time-telling devices, and the modern sculpture of Italian Medardo Rosso. These va
rious interests reflect her perspective as an immigrant from Syria who moved to Ohio when she was a child. She has said: “I was educated by Modernist instructors in the Midwest, but also was raised in an Islamic household with a culture that very much prizes narrative and folklore.”
Her work is therefore indebted to storytelling and to a close study of Modernist principles. Al-Hadid’s walls on the Oval Lawn measure thirty-six feet long by fourteen feet high and twenty-two feet long by fourteen feet high. Their porous structures enable the viewer to see through the sculpture, to breach the wall. The imagery of these delicate facades stands in contrast to the strapping canyon of early twentieth-century skyscrapers surrounding Madison Square Park. The apparent fragility of Al-Hadid’s materials—a delicately poured polymer modified gypsum and fiberglass—is belied by its toughness and resilience. This inherent tension functions as an essential aspect of the project.
One of the artist’s walls depicts Gradiva, a reference to the twentieth-century mythological female character from a novella by Wilhelm Jensen. Gradiva’s name was likely taken from Mars Gradivus, the Roman god who walked into battle. The protagonist of the novella, an archeologist fascinated with the Gradiva bas-relief sculpture, obsessively chases his imagined apparition through the ruins of Pompeii on a journey that culminates when Gradiva manifests into his childhood infatuation. With subtlety, viewers will discern Gradiva emanating from the voids in Al-Hadid’s sculptural composition.
The second wall and the sculpture in the Park’s reflecting pool are inspired by an early Netherlandish painting called Allegory of Chastity by Hans Memling, of a female figure protruding from a mountaintop, the rocky formation suggesting an overgrown skirt around her waist. The painting relates to an abundant history of Early Renaissance paintings depicting voluminous skirts so mountainous that women’s bodies entirely disappear beneath the folds. In all of Al-Hadid’s work, boundaries between figure and landscape, architecture and site, interior and exterior, painting and sculpture, movement and stasis, are obscured. This confusion of boundaries is an integral part of her work.
Delirious Matter is the thirty-sixth outdoor exhibition organized by Madison Square Park Conservancy. The project is organized by Brooke Kamin Rapaport, Deputy Director and Martin Friedman Senior Curator of Mad. Sq. Art, Julia Friedman, Curatorial Manager, and Tom Reidy, Senior Project Manager. Simultaneous to Delirious Matter’s display in Madison Square Park, the Bronx Museum of the Arts has organized Diana Al-Hadid: Delirious Matter, which will be on view in the Bronx from July 18 — October 14, 2018.