If you’ve been walking down Broadway lately, just a little bit south of Times Square you may have noticed something out of the ordinary as though art and history were coming to life.
A collection of 18 life-sized bronze sculptures by renowned sculptor Seward Johnson dazzle five blocks of Broadway in a public art show titled Seward Johnson in New York presented by the Garment District Alliance’s “Summer Arts on the Plazas” program. The exhibition is divided into three sub-categories that are titled Celebrating the Familiar, Beyond the Frame, and Icons Revisited all of which include pieces created at different points in his career throughout the past 30 years.
With the series Celebrating the Familiar, Johnson intelligently captures the daily life in America by portraying ordinary individuals going about their business. Notable works from this series include Holding Out depicting a woman carrying a heavy brown paper bag of groceries in one hand while balancing two white shopping bags in the other. Another work from this series titled Frequent Flyers features two businessmen are walking alongside each other with one man tilting his head with a curious expression on his face as though he’s commenting on something interesting he’s observed as his partner looks at him with interest in what he might be saying.
The series Beyond the Frame is a charming ode to French Impressionist and other great painters as Johnson takes scenes from some of the most celebrated artworks of all time and puts them into a twenty-first century context. Johnson includes scenes from many of Renoir’s paintings such as Dance in the Country, Dance in the City, or Dance at Bouvigal, all of which feature couples dancing and are enchanting replicas of the original paintings.
Johnson also re-creates the scene from Manet’s Chez Pere Lathuille where a couple are spending the afternoon in an outdoor café as the waiter looks on from a distance holding a teapot. Johnson refers to his version as Eye of the Beholder to capture the scene from the waiter’s point of view. Other notable works from this series are God Bless America inspired by Grant Wood’s iconic American Gothic painting depicting a farmer holding a pitchfork with his wife standing next to him, and Monet, Our Visiting Artist portraying one of the greatest painters of the era as though he were visiting New York City for the first time and painting exactly what he sees in front of him.
Johnson’s interest in politics and pop culture clearly emerges through his Icons Revisited series. Works from this series include a 1991 installation titled Return Visit, featuring Abraham Lincoln delivering the famous Gettysburg Address to a twentieth century man, and the 2011 installation Forever Marilyn of America’s most legendary and charismatic film star standing over a subway grate with her white dress flowing in the wind as the train passes.
Perhaps the most notable work from this series is Embracing Peace depicting a sailor carrying roses and bending over to kiss a nurse re-creating Alfred Eisenstaedt’s renowned photograph that graced the cover of Life Magazine on August 14th 1945 celebrating Victory Over Japan Day marking the end of World War II. A much larger 25-foot version of this sculpture has been recently installed in the heart of Times Square to mark the 70th anniversary of the victorious occasion.
Seward Johnson in New York is presented on Broadway between 36th and 41st Streets, and will be on view through Sept. 15.