“Dunescape” at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center

Installation of Dunescape at P.S.1

* * *

I visited P.S.1 intending to write about the exhibition Around 1984: A Look at Art in the Eighties, but got waylaid by Dunescape, an installation in the museum’s courtyard. Anyone familiar with this outpost of the “bleeding edge”–“cutting edge,” I’m told, no longer cuts deeply enough–knows how forbidding the concrete and gravel entryway at P.S.1 is. Dunescape, however, transforms this singularly disagreeable space into an agreeably contrived environment.

Designed by the architectural firm of SHoP/Sharples Holden Pasquarelli as part of the MoMA P.S.1 Young Architects Program, Dunescape is, essentially, a pseudo-beach. Sprinklers some 10-feet high disperse a fine mist of cool water, and beach chairs emblazoned with the P.S.1/MoMA logo–available for purchase at the front desk–provide an opportunity for visitors to take a load off. The centerpiece of the installation is an elaborate contraption that simultaneously serves as a waterfall, bench, changing area and toddler pool. Constructed from wooden slates, it cannily approximates the crags, crevices and caverns of the natural world.

The tendency on the part of our cultural institutions to embrace the verities of the amusement part as a means of generating visitors is a deplorable one. But Dunescape is the most considered and unpretentious projects I’ve seen at P.S.1. The children splashing the pools were enjoying themselves immensely, as were their parents. They felt no compunction to visit the museum. Neither did I.

© 2000 Mario Naves

Originally published in the August 28-September 4, 2000 edition of The New York Observer.

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