Public performance art and street art are portals through which the audience can question its traditional relationship to the environment and interaction with their community, offering commentary on justice, beauty and equality. Nick Cave’s Heard NY project uses Grand Central Terminal as its venue, and combines his beautifully designed horse Soundsuits, modern dance, and sound, to inspire New Yorkers to just stop being so busy for a few minutes. Here are five reasons this performance is worth adding to this weekend’s agenda before it ends.
1. It’s free
Unfortunately, some of our country’s best museums charge adults between $20 and $25 to get in, classifying art appreciation often as a luxury expense for many personal budgets. Thanks to organizations like CreativeTime and the MTA Arts for Transit and Urban Design, anyone walking through Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall at 11 a.m. or 2 p.m. between March 25-31 can witness Alvin Ailey-trained modern dancers wearing 15 sculptural horse soundsuits created by the artist Nick Cave performing to the sounds of live percussion and harps. For free!
2. It makes you reconsider the use of public urban spaces
Rapid urbanization largely defines the daily context of millennials. According to UN Habitat, by 2050, 70% of the world population will live in cities, up from the 50% in 2010, meaning, cities have to catch up with this increasing demand for a healthy urban lifestyle. New Yorkers, for example, have witnessed our city's streets change before our eyes with Bloomberg and his fearless Transportation Commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, who brought brightly colored chairs into Times Square, and painted bike lanes over car lanes. Cities are linking use and design in public spaces because, not only does our generation enjoy experiences like public art performances in train stations, but also because we want our environments to become more sustainable. Ultimately, our likes and dislikes lead to policy priorities, and hopefully a slow removal from the historically divisive and environmentally destructive Robert Moses approach to planning, towards a holistic Jane Jacobs approach, that is safer, greener, and more inclusive.
After the performance, I did some people watching in Grand Central in Vanderbilt Hall. After a minute, I noticed that I felt the calm that I do in a museum. And to think that only 40 years ago, Grand Central was abandoned, in its decline, and at risk of being demolished.
3. It makes you talk to strangers
While some art is best appreciated individually, Cave’s Heard NY invites interaction with whomever is next to you, firstly by the mere fact that it is in a public space. Beyond that, the performance appeals to all ages and can incite the imagination of a 6-year-old, and just as easily challenge the sophisticated aesthetic eye of a 59 year old. The conversation possibilities are endless. During my visit, I talked with brothers, 12-year old Elijah and 10-year-old Naji, who were watching their uncle, percussionist Junior Wedderburn, perform. According to Elijah, “it was amazing,” and he particularly enjoyed the part "when the horses broke apart and shifted their moves from hip-hop to a more African-style." Naji preferred touching the horses, who, in the midst of their dance, would come up to the crowd and let kids pet them. Did you ever think your memories of petting farms and museums would ever intersect in the same place to the sounds of a harp and drums? Me neither.
4. It is full of historical and cultural influences
In a video interview for the New York Times, Nick Cave explains that he integrates the history of Grand Central into the performance with the horses, who have long been linked to the station as the original modes of transportation bringing travelers to their trains; horses also appear on the ceiling of the central hall, as Pegasus. The Soundsuits, according to the Creative Time curatorial statement, mix contemporary fashion, Southeast Asian embroidery, and African ceremonial costumes. Basically, an infinite number of art history papers could be written about this piece.
5. It’s magical
Demanding that you slow down to look, in what is known as one of the busiest hubs in the world, is a loud statement. Admittedly, perhaps every hustling urbanite millennial needs this reminder, to be able to stop for a second and enjoy the world we live in and every second we are in it. When hundreds of other commuters stop to watch massive colorful, slow-moving horses dance at the same time, then they inevitably become part of the performance as well. When the performer and onlooker worlds collide like this for a few brief moments in the middle of Grand Central Terminal, and you look around to see this collective pause, then the experience really is magical.
Nick Cave’s Heard NY Soundsuits and performance can be viewed until March 31 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. in Vanderbilt Hall at Grand Central Station.