This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001



(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

The fireboat John J. Harvey pulls into the dock, completing another East River sojourn (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pier 6 through August 12
Hudson River Park, Pier 25 at West St., August 13 – October 7
Hudson River Park, Pier 66a at Twenty-Sixth St., October 7 – May 12
Admission: free (advance RSVP required for boat trip, through October 7)
flow separation slideshow

San Francisco-born, New York-based visual artist Tauba Auerbach has added some razzle dazzle to city waterways with the nautical work “Flow Separation.” For this joint project of the Public Art Fund and 14-18 NOW, the British organization honoring the centenary of WWI, Auerbach has turned the fireboat John J. Harvey into a “dazzle ship,” painting the 1931 boat in red and white dazzle camouflage. If you’re not familiar with the style, its history is fascinating. In the First World War, dazzle camouflage, albeit in less-striking colors, was inspired by ideas from British painter Norman Wilkinson and Scottish zoologist John Graham Kerr — Pablo Picasso claimed credit as well — and was used to confuse the enemy by distorting ships’ speed and direction, making them much tougher moving targets. Auerbach, whose previous painting and sculpture exhibitions include “Projective Instrument” and “Float” and whose “Diagonal Press” is a continuing unique open-edition publishing model, has covered virtually every possible surface of the vessel, from floors and ladders to walls and doors, from storage containers and flags to rope and chains, with exuberant red-and-white marbling and patterns adapted from the movement of water, particularly by how eddies can form in a ship’s wake, making it appear that the water is going both backward and forward at once.

(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Artist Tauba Auerbach has painted a former FDNY fireboat in dazzling red and white, based on the movement of water (photo by twi-ny/mdr)(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Built in 1931 in a Gowanus plant and decommissioned in 1994, the 130-foot-long Harvey was the first FDNY fireboat with an internal combustion engine. It was named for steam fireboat pilot John J. Harvey, the only casualty of a February 1930 incident involving a fire on a German shipping line and a series of explosions that impacted Harvey’s boat, the Thomas Willett. Before being retired, the Harvey was one of the boats that would shoot out red, white, and blue water immediately prior to the Macy’s July Fourth fireworks display on the East River; it was brought back into action on September 11, 2001, pumping water and helping to evacuate people downtown after the towers fell.

(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

The John J. Harvey lets loose its water cannons by the bridges as part of Public Art Fund project “Flow Separation” (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Since then, the Harvey has taken New Yorkers and tourists on short sojourns, but never quite like this. Captain Huntley Gill guides the boat up the East River, passing by Gowanus Bay (where it was built), Red Hook, several bridges, and the Statue of Liberty. Weather permitting, the boat lets loose its water cannons, often with spontaneous rainbows, in a spectacular display that allows you to get as wet as you want to, depending on where you’re standing. Some people choose to get drenched, while others can take cover under a dazzled tarp. Not all the cannons work, so you might get spritzed through old leaks. Most of the ship is accessible, including two lifeboats and one of the lookout towers that features multiple cannons, but there is no available bathroom and no snack bar. It’s a friendly atmosphere, so be ready to interact with your fellow enthusiastic passengers as well as the crew members, who love to talk about the ship, from longtime mates to one young man who recently arrived in New York and was hired on the Harvey as his first job; he even sleeps on the boat and works on his DJ music on off-hours. The captain is happy to share details about the boat and its repainting and upcoming complete restoration, and don’t be surprised if you bump into Florent Morellet, the community activist, artist, and former owner of the favorite Meatpacking District restaurant Florent; he is one of the founders of the group that bought the boat postretirement, and he’s planning on taking trips every weekend.

(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Tauba Auerbach’s “Flow Separation” will move from Brooklyn Bridge Park to Hudson River Park for boarding and short trips (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Through August 12, the fireboat will be docked at Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park, where it can be boarded between 12 noon and 4:00 on Saturdays and between 3:00 and 7:00 on Sundays. The boat will also take seventy-five people on a forty-five to sixty-minute trip at 4:30 and 6:00 on Saturdays and 12 noon and 1:30 on Sundays. The Harvey will then move to Pier 25 in Hudson River Park from August 13 to October 7, where the boarding and trips continue. Finally, the boat will dock at Pier 66A in Hudson River Park through May 12, but with no more trips. Tickets for the September 15-16 journeys will become available on September 4 at noon, for September 22-23 on September 11 at noon, and for September 29-30 and October 7 on September 18 at noon. There is a standby line that is worth the wait (get there about an hour early), since there is usually, although not always, a handful of no-shows. It’s a fabulous experience and a must-see, a gorgeous, swirling artwork that provides a thrill-a-minute experience. Of course, it is also a reminder of the horror of battle, from the War to End All Wars to the present fears of nuclear confrontation.

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