The Trust for Governors Island's Art CommisionsGI Program

Governors Island Corporation, d.b.a. The Trust for Governors Island (The Trust)

Funding Received: 2013
New York, NY
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
December 30, 2013

Artist Rachel Whiteread and team visit Discovery Hill on Governors Island, with Lower Manhattan and New York Harbor in the background. At the time of the site visit, Discovery Hill stood approximately 28 feet high; when it completes construction in 2014, Discovery Hill will be 40 feet high; photo courtesy of The Trust for Governors Island

Just before Thanksgiving, The Trust hosted a chilly but exhilarating site visit to Governors Island for artist Rachel Whiteread. We were joined by consulting curator Tom Eccles and his team at Bard College’s Center for Curatorial Studies, landscape architects from West 8, and representatives from Rachel’s studio and London and gallery here in New York. Why such a crowd?

Construction of The Hills, one of which will be the site of a commission by Rachel Whiteread, are far enough along to enable the artist to better visualize how her piece will respond to its one-of-a-kind location in the middle of the New York Harbor with spectacular views and a unique maritime climate. Though the lush plantings, paths, and some of the adjacent public spaces will not be complete for another year, the artist’s creative process must begin now in order to dovetail with the complex engineering and construction schedule that the Hills require.

Recent Wins
The Trust announced at a meeting of its Board of Directors earlier this month another major step in the Island’s transformation: the designation of three tenants for historic buildings on the north half of the Island.

A day spa, run by Quadratec QC Terme, will be open to the public year round. The spa will operate in three Island buildings and will feature indoor facilities and an outdoor courtyard for relaxation, and will offer a range of spa services. The Urban Assembly New York Harbor School, a New York City public high school that currently occupies an historic building, will expand to an adjacent building, allowing it to grow its student body by more than 300 students. And Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Arts Center at Governors Island will expand to the lower level of the building it currently occupies, Building 110, to include additional artist studio space and a media lab, among other facilities.

Recent press in the “Architects Newspaper” and in “Time Out New York” summarize the significance of new tenancies and how they contribute to the transformation of Governors Island into a year-round vibrant destination for the city and region.

There is an inherent challenge when commissioning site-specific art that responds to its surrounding environment, particularly when that environment is undergoing a total transformation! In this case we are transforming derelict landfill into lush parkland and dramatic hills, so existing conditions for the artists do not in reality take shape until their artwork is nearly complete.

In this context, the notion of a “site visit” becomes as much a conceptual exercise as it is an opportunity to experience the place. We have found that it is important for artists to visit Governors Island during several key phases of the Island’s physical transformation so they can witness first-hand the development of the new park and public spaces, stay apprised of the Island’s evolving uses, and work hand in hand with the design team at critical moments to truly integrate the commissioned art with the new landscapes and tenants.