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A Giant Neon Sign Brings 'Understanding' to Brooklyn

Public Art Fund presents Martin Creed’s latest sculpture at Brooklyn Bridge Park.
May 4, 2016, 3:45pm
All photos by Jason Wyche, Courtesy of Public Art Fund.

Martin Creed may be one of Great Britain’s most acclaimed artists, but he does not go out of his way to be understood. His work is brilliant in its simplicity, turning everyday objects into meditations on existence. This spring, the enigmatic artist is bringing a new, ruby red neon sculpture, Work No 2630: UNDERSTANDING, to Brooklyn. Presented by the Public Art Fund, the giant, spinning text sculpture will preside over Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6, beckoning viewers from Manhattan to Brooklyn to contemplate its message.

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In 2001, the same year he won the Turner Prize, he showed Work No 227: The Lights Going On and Off, a blank room where, as the title suggests, the lights blink on and off. His most famous pieces include Work No. 200: Half the air in a given space, which is made by putting half of a room’s entire volume into air-filled balloons, then filling the room halfway with those balloons and letting viewers venture inside, and Work No. 203: EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT, which features those words emblazoned in white neon across the facade of a neoclassical structure.

The Creators Project got a firsthand look at how cryptic and tongue-in-cheek Creed can be when we reached out to interview him about the sculpture. To our bevy of questions, he responded simply with, "I wish I could understand and I wish I could be understood." Work No 2630: UNDERSTANDING is made from individual 25-foot-tall steel letters mounted on an I-beam that rotates at speeds determined by an algorithm Creed wrote himself. Spinning high above a stepped base that doubles as a seating for park visitors, the luminous sign invites New Yorkers to literally stand under UNDERSTANDING, while beaming its highly-visible message.

The piece is Creed’s largest public sculpture to date, a colossal neon soapbox for a message of compassion that is at once explicit and open to interpretation. "Simple and direct, UNDERSTANDING invites us to make our own interpretations and perhaps debate the limits and possibilities of human understanding. Is his bright red neon a strident demand for more understanding in a world of indifference? Is it an ironic response to an increasingly polarized political landscape, or a sincere statement of our need for sympathy and mutual comprehension?" says Public Art Fund director and chief curator Nicholas Baume.

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Martin Creed, Work No. 200, Half the air in a given space, 1998. White balloons. ©Martin Creed

New York just so happens to be having a Martin Creed moment. As multidisciplinary artist, his work will not only illuminate the East River, it will fill the Park Avenue Armory’s Wade Thompson Drill Hall from June 8 to August 7. It is the most comprehensive survey of Creed’s work in the US to date, meaning that both indoors and outdoors, the city will be bursting with glowing text, slamming pianos, balloons, and other odes to playful minimalism.

Martin Creed, Work No. 1094, 2011.Photographic print, 64 3/8 x 117 ½ in / 163.5 x 298.5 cm. © Martin Creed

Work No 2630: UNDERSTANDING, presented by Public Art Fund, debuts May 4 and runs through October 23 at Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6. Martin Creed: The Back Door runs at the Park Avenue Armory June 8 through August 7.

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