Water towers have been required to sit atop all New York City buildings over six stories since the 19th-century—providing the city with most of our drinking and bathing water ever since. In many ways, they've come to be a representative icon for our city. And for good reason—they store water that gives life to us all. Regardless of who you are, or where you were born, water nourishes. Drink, and you will be refreshed.
The newest site-specific installation to hit Madison Square Park, *This Land Is Your Land* by Iván Navarro (on view thru Apr. 13), taps into the water tower's egalitarian appeal. At first glance, the work looks like nothing much: three wooden "water towers" standing on a grassy stretch of parkland. Wait until night falls, and approach a little closer, and new meaning is revealed. The three structures, each about 7 feet in diameter and 8 feet off the ground, glow from their undersides. Expect to be dazzled when you step underneath. The towers are lined with reflective mirrors, creating the effect of a limitless tunnel ascent rising up into the sky. In one, you'll see a neon ladder, reaching ever-upward. In another, the word "me," which when reflected becomes "we." Finally, the third reads "bed." All three blast their statements up and up and up into eternity.
Navarro, naming his exhibit after the 1940s Woody Guthrie folk song, aims to rouse the public's sense of acceptance; to remind us that we are—and always have been—a nation of immigrants. That this country belongs to all who seek refuge. That the Statue of Liberty herself holds a plaque inscribed with Emma Lazarus' poetry: "Give me your tired, your poor,/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,/ The wretched refuse of your teeming shore./ Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:/ I lift my lamp beside the golden door." The artist—an immigrant himself, Chilean-born and based in Brooklyn—has a personal stake in communicating such truths. In the United States, and New York especially, "me" should always become "we," and the ladder of opportunity must still climb upward. Navarro reminds us all to lift our lamps beside the door.
It's a powerful message delivered in an unexpected way. You might need to catch your breath during reflection. Here's a hint: A glass of water might help. You might want to look to the nearest tower.
» This Land Is Your Land by Ivan Navarro, Madison Square Park, E. 23rd & Madison Ave., thru Apr. 13th
Photo: Image by Hernan Rivera and Iván Navarro. Courtesy Paul Kasmin Gallery.