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As ‘Diller Island’ Sinks, Whitney Plans Major Artwork on Hudson

Mr. Hammons’s Gansevoort installation is expected to feature a ghostlike image of the original Pier 52 building on that site, according to those who have been briefed on the project — an open minimalist framework of what had originally been there, like a pencil line drawing in space.

The project would rest on 12 pilings — five of them on the peninsula, with a sixth out at the end of it and another six in the water to the south.

Mindful that a judge had objected to the Diller park’s proposed use of concrete to fill in some of Pier 55’s 550 pilings, the Whitney’s installation involves the construction of no solid surfaces like a floor, walls or platforms.

The importance of communicating with neighborhood groups and potential opponents was one of the lessons that Whitney officials learned from Diller Island’s cautionary tale. Opponents of the Diller project — chiefly, a civic group backed by Douglas Durst of the New York real estate family — had criticized the secrecy surrounding the island and its potential danger to a protected Hudson estuary.

Mr. Diller, the chairman of IAC/InterActive Corporation, and his wife, the fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, had agreed to underwrite the undulating island park and cultural hub at the foot of West 13th Street. The cost had mushroomed to more than $250 million from $35 million over six years because of the complexity of the plans — by the British designer Thomas Heatherwick — and the delays caused by legal battles over issues like Pier 55’s placement.

The Diller and Whitney projects might seem unrelated at first. But in fact, both were being overseen by the Hudson River Park Trust, and both were located in waters that became the subject of environmental concerns in lawsuits. Richard Emery, a lawyer for the opponents of the Diller project, said his clients would have had to sign off on the Whitney project as part of a larger legal settlement over the island park. Specifically, the opponents of the park were negotiating with the Hudson River Park Trust on protections for the estuary area that would have included both the island and the art installation.

Mr. Diller said in an interview that he had only just learned about the extent of the Whitney project, but that neither the art installation itself nor the lack of information about it affected his decision to pull the plug on his island.

Mr. Hammons, the famously elusive African-American artist whose work is coveted by institutions the world over, had some time ago proposed to the Whitney a sculpture that would recall Pier 52’s shipping history.

The artist, whom the Times critic Holland Cotter recently described as “a star, known for his formal and conceptual brilliance and his unpredictable ways,” is difficult to pin down for museum shows as well as interviews. (His spokeswoman referred calls to the Whitney.) His work, which deals with issues of race and beauty, ranges from bejeweled basketball hoops to defaced fur coats to a sweatshirt’s hood, pinned to a wall. The pier project is likely to be Mr. Hammons’s first large-scale permanent outdoor work; the Whitney would have to raise funds to cover its undisclosed cost.

Photo

Artwork by David Hammons, on display this year at the Mnuchin Gallery in New York.

Credit
Jake Naughton for The New York Times NYTCREDIT: Jake Naughton for The New York Times

The artwork would have to be approved by the trust, which has been initially receptive.

“The Whitney approached the trust with an idea for a highly site-specific project that would reflect the southern edge of Gansevoort’s physical and artistic history and role in the working waterfront,” Madelyn Wils, president of the Hudson River Park Trust, said in a statement. “We think it’s an inspiring idea and look forward to hearing the community’s thoughts before pursuing it further.”

The Whitney has been careful to try to enlist potential opponents early on, like Deborah J. Glick, the Democratic assemblywoman whose district includes the pier, and who had very publicly complained that the trust had not been open about the island’s private funding.

Ms. Glick said she had breakfast several months ago with Mr. Weinberg, who laid out the Whitney’s proposal for the installation but did not leave her with a rendering or description, saying that the Whitney did not want word to get out about the project before it had been approved by the museum’s board.

“My impression was, it was a rather skeletal, tubular, very open form that would be a reminder of the historic piers that once lined the waterfront,” Ms. Glick said of the artwork.

“It didn’t seem to be something with the same physical impact” as the Diller project, she added. “In my mind, it wouldn’t interfere with plans for the area.”

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