We feel a special affinity for Chakaia Booker’s new installation “The Sentinels,” five works that line Broadway’s Garment District Plazas just north of Macy’s. When we were growing up, our family ran a tire and auto repair business on Utica Ave. in Brooklyn, so the smell and touch of vulcanized rubber is in our veins. The project, sponsored by the Garment District Alliance and the New York City Department of Transportation, consists of five pieces that the Newark-born, New York City-based Booker, working with fabricator Alston Van Putten Jr., fashioned by first employing design software to come up with a scale model, then using stainless-steel tubing, recycled rubber tires, and power tools to put it all together. Situated along the pedestrian plazas on Broadway, the pieces evoke industrialism, labor, and environmentalism while honoring the African American experience; it also serves as a reminder that the area was formerly open to cars, but the only rubber currently allowed on that part of the street is Booker’s art.
The five works — “Shapeshifter,” “Gridlock,” “Take Out,” “One Way,” and the brand-new “LBD Duty Free,” created for this installation — offer a welcoming presence that invites passersby to investigate their intricate details (though no touching is allowed), as Booker and Van Putten Jr. were able to turn the tires into all kinds of twisting shapes that recall sewing and patchwork quilts as well as a kind of unique playground (but no climbing allowed). Particularly effective is 2008’s “Take Out,” which recalls a wonderfully framed painting looking up or down bustling Broadway as well as a mirror that makes it feel like you’re looking at yourself. “Placing these sculptures in the Garment District suggests a cross pollination, and cultivation of current, past, and future behavior,” Booker explained in a statement. “I hope this installation helps create a sense of community progression, symbolizing how this neighborhood has grown into the vibrant, creative, and artistic center it is today.” The black and gray color palette is also quite a contrast to the artist herself, who wears colorful head wraps and dresses. When we were at the Domino Sugar Factory last month seeing Kara Walker’s spectacular Creative Time project “A Subtlety,” we suddenly found ourselves standing next to Booker, whose dazzling outfit provided a stark contrast to Walker’s central white “mammy” sculpture. (You can see a photo of Booker at the show here.) Booker, whose “Manipulating Fractions” was part of the recent “Fact of the Matter” off-site Socrates Sculpture Park exhibition at the 1285 Avenue of the Americas Art Gallery, will be at the actual Socrates park in Queens from July 28 to August 1 leading the children’s outdoor art workshop “Build a Meal,” in which participants will sculpt a balanced meal using clay and other materials; preregistration is highly advised at 718-956-1819.