For the residential property 525 West 52nd Street, Art Assets created an art program that weaves the narrative of the far west side and complements 525’s architectural design by Handel Architects.
The architecture of 525 West 52 reflects the dramatic history of Hell’s Kitchen.
Once used for farmland, the neighborhood’s proximity to the Hudson River allowed it to rapidly industrialize into an important business and shipping center. During Prohibition, the numerous warehouses were perfect sites for bootleg distilleries and rumrunners. Several gangs sprang up and the neighborhood became a haven for organized crime. By the time Prohibition was repealed, Hell’s Kitchen was known as one of the most dangerous places in America.
By the 1970s, special zoning encouraged new development of the area while maintaining its historical character. Today, Hell’s Kitchen is less “Hell” and more “Kitchen,” known for Restaurant Row and a profusion of food festivals and ethnic restaurants. It’s also a center for actors and musicians, who live and work in the neighborhood with its proximity to Broadway theatres and music-recording studios.
Today, Hell’s Kitchen is a vital link on the Westside corridor for the Financial District/Hudson Yards/ Columbus Circle and beyond.
The property is west of transportation hubs, Times Square, and business districts. As such, the area attracts affluent young professionals and families seeking a home in a classic, culturally aware New York neighborhood, but close to work and with the best amenities.
525 West 52nd Street reflects the growth of New York City from vast farmland to the working waterfront, with teeming piers and passenger ship terminals along the Hudson River.
In the 1880s, new infrastructure projects created the massive trackworks of the New York Central and the 9th Avenue elevated trains. Constantly surrounded by noise and smell, the first years of the 20th Century gathered a gaggle of garages and a wasteland of warehouses.
Today, buildings and piers are being repurposed to a mix of residential, creative arts, and retail. This creative juice is the wellspring of 525 West 52nd Street and the architecture that reflects this rise of creativity.
The art program at 525 subtly suggests the history of the neighborhood while simultaneously highlighting the building’s architecture and reflecting the daily lives of residents.
On a most basic level, the materials used—Rachel Mica Weiss’s nylon cording and steel bars, Mario Navarro’s mirrors and wood, and Ricardo Rendon’s metallic punched wood and stainless steel cable—are traditionally industrial components that reference the neighborhood’s mid-19th-century shipping docks, warehouses, and Hudson River Railroad.
Next, imagine the daily travels of residents and visitors. Upon walking through the grand, double-height entrance in the morning, on the way to work or out for a dog-walk or coffee, they’ll pass under Rachel Mica Weiss’s Inverted Arches. These soft, rounded forms complement the masculine, rectilinear forms of the lobby.
The shining swaths of draped nylon that form the two lilting forms of this hanging installation are illuminated by the daylight streaming through the south-facing windows. As such, the arches create striking silhouettes and intricate, dramatic shadows that change throughout the day. Meanwhile, the curving lines of overlapping rope create an incredible moiré effect that seems to move and shift as one moves past them—offering residents and visitors a different view as they come and go.
During the day, residents will periodically head down the ground-floor stairs to the sub-level gym and game room, passing by Mario Navarro’s Original Accident. Navarro’s installation further complements the building’s structure, exploring the decomposition of architectural paradigms such as balance, symmetry, and organization of units.
Like Weiss’s arches, Navarro’s mirrors change throughout the day, reflecting the shifting ambient light—from beams of daytime sunlight passing into the adjacent garden, to the warm afternoon and evening glow, and finally curated indoor lighting at night. The work’s effect varies throughout the day, creating dramatic, changing shadows, and throwing angled light reflections onto the wall.
In the evening, when residents return home after a long day, they’ll be greeted by Ricardo Rendon’s work at the elevator—either the whimsical, gold-plated, punched-metal Empty Message, or the architectural, fractal-like steel cable Concentration Zone—which together emphasize manual work and assign each wing of the building its own identity, providing residents with a sense of ownership.
Later, residents will return to the ground floor to relax in the communal lounge. Here, Mario Navarro’s mirrored piece over the stairs communes with Rachel Mica Weiss’s thread installation, which in turn speaks to Weiss’s entryway arches.
Composed of hundreds of thousands of feet of hand-strung polyester embroidery thread, each of the thread installation’s seven panels represent a stage in the daily rise and set of the sun, gently fading from one color to the next. The panels mark the rhythm of light that residents experience as they come and go through this communal space each day, and when viewed together, can be viewed as both a rising or setting sun. The light pouring in from the windows on each side of the thread installation casts colorful shadows onto the wall underneath the panels.
Echoing the light, reflections, and rectilinear forms of Mario Navarro’s work in the stairwell beside them and the curved inner forms and colors of the rope installation in the entryway, these installations, at human scale, will continue and complete the story of the building’s art and architecture.
Together, all the artworks express a cohesive theme appreciating light, architecture, and industry—while at the same time fostering a sense of wonder and a personal identity among residents.