A shore thing

“Art on the Beach” enhances the aesthetic atmosphere of Playland in Rye.

When Janet T. Langsam, CEO of ArtsWestchester, was a child, the beach was as much a part of her world as the arts were.

“I’m just a kid from Far Rockaway (Queens),” she says. “Growing up on the beach was a year-round experience.”

In the summer, Langsam and her family shared Rockaway Beach on the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the 5½-mile stretch that is its boardwalk, with tourists and residents seeking relief from the heat and humidity. In the other seasons, though, the family had the beach to themselves. Langsam and her older brother would ride their bikes on the boardwalk. At night, their father would bundle them up and take them down to the beach until the echoing rhythm of the waves lulled them to sleep and they could fall into their somewhat sandy beds.

Langsam’s mother, however, made sure that there were also plenty of trips into New York City — to museums, Carnegie Hall and a dance studio in  lower Manhattan.

So when Westchester County Executive George S. Latimer proposed an “Art on the Beach” project that would bring another artistic experience to historic Playland in Rye, Langsam was doubly enthusiastic. Not only did it bring back memories of her childhood by the sea, which she explored in a blog post on ArtsWestchester’s website; it also offered her another way to support one of her and the arts council’s central passions.

“This is another opportunity for Westchester to become distinguished for public art,” Langsam says.

The winning piece — selected from 54 entries that were whittled down to 10 finalists by a jury that included Meg Rodriguez, executive director of The Rye Arts Center; Michael Gitlitz, executive director of the Katonah Museum of Art; and Leigh Taylor Mickelson, former executive director of the Clay Art Center in Port Chester — is “Floating Forest,” a jellyfish fantasy by Tatjana Kunst. But viewers don’t have to worry about being stung as they wander amid the hanging “marine animals” in a 700-square-foot space near the Westchester Children’s Museum. The umbrella-shaped bodies of these creatures are made of ombré ceramics while their tentacles are crocheted. The installation by Yonkers ceramicist Kunst — whose last name means “art” in German — is just one of the many delightful mural and installation proposals that ArtsWestchester received. (The call for artworks, which carried an honorarium of $5,000 for the winning entry funded by the Westchester Parks Foundation, was limited to murals and installations as works on paper would be considered too fragile for the humid locale.)

Other finalists drew specifically on the Art Deco landmark that is the 91-year-old amusement park. Mamaroneck’s Piero Manrique’s proposed mural “Out of the Box and Dragonland” took its inspiration from the park’s dizzying Dragon Coaster for a design with a fiery red and green Van Gogh palette and more than a hint of Chinoiserie. 

Brooklyn artists Elizabeth Newsomes and
Michael Zelehowski proposed a library-like installation with hammocks that would’ve brought new meaning to the phrase “beach book.” 

Isabelle Garbani’s “Beach Oasis” imagined the space as a seaside garden, while Stephanie Wenzel’s “The Wave is Mutual” envisioned it as waist-high undulations made of cable spools and yoga mats. Langsam is hoping to turn some of these into a reality in two other Playland spaces, funding permitting.

Surely there is no lack of fervor for expanding the project. As County Executive Latimer initially said: “I have long been committed to the arts. I know firsthand the transformative powers of the arts and that’s why it was so important to me to bring an art installation to Playland for the public to enjoy. Art on the boardwalk is a natural fit, and I’m thrilled that it is happening this season. I want to thank ArtsWestchester for working on this project for the county, and I want to thank the Westchester Parks Foundation for financially supporting ‘Art on the Beach.’”

The project, which runs through August, is just one of the many public art initiatives ArtsWestchester is involved in. They include five sculptures for the pedestrian/bicycle path of the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge; a $100,000 sculpture commission for 42 Broad St. W., a luxury residential building in Mount Vernon that is a venture of The Bluestone Organization and the Alexander Development Group; and a $120,000 sculpture commission for White Plains’ renovated Gateway Building, under the auspices of the Ginsburg Development Cos.

ArtsWestchester’s Arts Exchange headquarters in White Plains will get into the act when it is wrapped Christo-like by fabric artist Amanda Browder next spring. Community volunteers are joining the artist during public sewing days, beginning this month, to create panels for this 7-story fabric sculpture.

“I think what we’re doing,” Langsam says of these projects, “is expanding the definition of art.”

For more, including information on how you can become part of the sewing project for the Amanda Browder fabric sculpture, visit artswestchester.org.

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