If you need to use Moynihan Train Hall, take the 31st Street side entrance and look up. There you’ll find 91 skyscrapers made of aluminum, lacquer, stainless steel, and polycarbonate dangling from a mirrored base. They contain some 72,000 small LED lights; and, if you stare long enough, you’ll be able to see six buildings shift color. But definitely don’t sneeze. All told, these stalactites weigh about 30,000 pounds — some reach 9 feet long! — so they’d make quite a crash if suddenly dislodged.
But have no fear, the imaginary city’s perfectly safe. Commissioned by the Empire State Development Corporation, with help from the Public Art Fund, The Hive — as it’s called — was fashioned by German artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset. Collectively called Elmgreen & Dragset, the duo has been crafting large scale sculpture since 1995 from their studio in Berlin. They’ve had work featured in galleries all over the world, including solo shows at the Grand Palais (Paris), Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago), Tate Modern (London), and Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (Beijing).
But they’re probably best known for their public commissions. Instagrammers and fashionistas alike have flocked to Prada Marfa (2005), their life-sized model of a Prada store outside Valentine, Texas for years. Others have recently come to appreciate Bent Pool (2019), a dental retainer version of a swimming pool, near the Miami Beach Convention Center. Here in New York, we last experienced Van Gogh’s Ear (2015), exactly as it sounds, when the 20-foot high appendage was set at the main 5th Avenue gangway to Rockefeller Center.
The Hive, however, is Elmgreen & Dragset’s first permanent piece in New York. And if you spot something familiar about it — like One World Trade, for example — you’re not just projecting your hometown bias. The artists’ imaginary metropolis pulls a few shapes from Chicago, Paris, Hong Kong, London, and Kuala Lumpur into its skyline too. As the press release from the Public Art Fund related, that was the point: “The Hive expresses the quintessential idea of New York City as a melting pot where cultures, nationalities, and ethnicities coexist to become greater than the sum of their parts.”
But, most importantly, The Hive isn’t passive. If you stand directly underneath, you can see yourself reflected on its mirrored base: A synapse among buildings. You’re reminded that you — yes, you! — you’re a part of the city too. You will it to function. “That’s [a big] aspect of it,” Mr. Dragset told the New York Times. “We like that there’s an interaction between the audience and our work.” Besides, he continued, a city is about this “huge collaboration” among people “in order to make everyone survive.” And that’s what The Hive tries to show.
Photo by Rick Stachura. April 28, 2021.
The ceiling of the West 31st Street side entrance to Moynihan Train Hall, Pennsylvania Station.