Monday, January 30, 2012

Elegant Trash

Sometimes, all too rarely for most of us, you have an Eureka! flash of inspiration and a wonderful insight is handed you. One of our favorite watercolors, New York City Trash Basket (created in 2003 for our exhibition Central Park at Didier Aaron, Inc. in Manhattan) was one such moment and we wanted to share the image and the story behind it here—if only to prove that we are after all contemporary artists, despite occasional protestations to the contrary!

We created a number of life-sized elevational watercolors for the Central Park show (here is a link to the NY Times review), the largest among them being well over a yard long or high. The idea behind the show was to make an æsthetic departure from our detailed historical elevations: to render objects and architectural details in the park with our usual attention to realism while presenting them at the scale of contemporary art. (Below, a life-sized one-point perspective of a marble vase at the Mall in the gallery.)

We particularly sought subjects that would translate into graphic images with an immediate visual impact, and when we came across one of these iconic wire-mesh trash baskets while scouting the park—as former New Yorkers, it is as evocative of Manhattan as one of Proust's madeleines—we had one of those ahah! moments.

Measurements and photos were duly taken and back in Paris the drawing was plotted out and rendered and, despite the unanticipated scale of the effort those few words gloss over (it seems always to be the case), the results did not disappoint. (The original watercolor is over a yard high, so do imagine an image exactly as big as the real thing.)

For the gallery etiquette we wrote:

Overlooked and overflowing, bent and abused and often obscured by black plastic liners, the ubiquitous New York City trash basket is found throughout Central Park. The minimalist geometry of its design embodies the dictum that form follows function and strikes the eye particularly by what is absent. The simple wire skein defines the void it surrounds and generates elegant geometry reminiscent both of Paolo Uccello's famed Renaissance explorations of perspective and the Op Art movement. And certainly the Warholian subject also evokes Pop Art. It comes as a slight shock that such beauty harbors Manhattan's refuse.

More prosaically, the watercolor depicts the Standard Expanded Metal Waste Basket, model #MO5539500 black, designed in the early 1980s by Corcraft Products of the NY State Department of Corrections and manufactured by the female inmates of the Albion state prison. Later, vertical re-enforcement bars were added as the mesh had a tendency to squash over time from the baskets being tossed back in place from the backs of sanitation trucks (as New Yorkers with windows facing the street all know, this basket-toss is best done at dawn).

Once we'd hung it among the other watercolors in the gallery, the Trash Basket became the mascot of the exhibition and was purchased by the New-York Historical Society for their permanent collection. In 2009 it was included in their exhibition, Drawn by New York, and we were bowled over to find that it had been hung at the very end of the enfilade of galleries, the culmination point of six centuries of works on paper depicting New York.

Today, this trash basket has been almost entirely replaced by a new, uglier design that nonetheless better survives the rigors of hanging out day and night on NYC street corners. But we are happy to report that new examples this classic design are still to be found within the park itself, the last bastion of elegant trash.


  1. I am glad there is a Nobel Prize for chemistry, medicine etc but good design affects more people more quickly than obscure physics.

  2. Dahhhling what a fun post! though I have seen them a milion times I had never really appreciated it's design. Great backstory.

  3. Hels, thank you for such a wonderful and insightful comment!
    And HRH thank you for commenting as well; indeed it's that magical transformation that is so rare that makes this a special artwork for us.