There are so many museums in New York City.
This is a good problem, of course, but it can be tremendously overwhelming.
If you have a few days in the city or even a few years, you just cannot see everything.
So when we were there on a recent filming trip, and the weather was unseasonably warm, we decided to forgo inside art viewing completely and soak up as much outside art as we could.
It's abundant, it's accessible, it's free, it's public art, folks, and New York City has it in spades.
First up, Madison Square Park, which has hosted an outstanding contemporary art program since 2004, commissioning artists to create ambitious large scale temporary works like this by Teresita Fernandez, this piece by Orly Genger, and this work by Jaume Plensa.
We resisted the Shake Shack urge, which was strong, and walked around the park to admire Martin Puryear's contribution from many different angles.
It's a 40-foot tall structure, abstract but anthropomorphized by the large gold leaf shackle that adorns its head.
It sits proudly in the middle of the lawn, confident despite its intimidating environs.
It's titled Big Bling, and you can see how its jewelry mimics that of the gold roof of the nearby New York Life building, making me think about the trophiness of architecture, as well as the trophiness of much art.
But this piece is temporary, not forever, made of somewhat rough but masterfully hewn wood wrapped in metal mesh.
It's porous and exactingly proportioned, not heavy and hulking.
And if you don't see it here, it will be in Philadelphia next.
Then we took the subway to City Hall Park, the green space adjacent to, you guessed it, City Hall, where we were greeted by these happy Italian bunnies by Claudia Comte, part of the outdoor exhibition, The Language of Things, put on by Public Art Fund.
Each of these marble forms is named after an historic Italian artist-- Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, insert and then remove Ninja Turtle joke.
But the seriousness of the material is undercut by the exuberant expressiveness of the cartoonish shapes.
Unlike cold, hard, modernist sculptures that sit sadly atop cement pads, these guys are popping up from the grass to check things out, make us feel welcome, and encourage us to consider what we think of as great art and why.
We also gave a listen to Chris Watson's sound installation, Ring Angels, featuring the sound of thousands of flocking starlings moving in close formation.
It's a little pocket of sound in a part of the city that is already quite loud and full of migrating people.
It created a little moment, where my attention was called away from the crush of the human world and toward the equally complicated and often noisy workings of the natural world.
Then we got back on the train and went uptown to the High Line starting at West 23rd Street, where we found Nari Ward's Smart Tree.
The piece is the artist's re-imagination of a childhood memory in which he saw a lime tree growing out of an abandoned car in his father's front yard in Jamaica, where Ward grew up.
In this version, the car is now a brand new Smart Car given a skin of tire treads and immobilized on cement blocks.
It's filled with dirt and rocks and sprouts a rather neat-looking arrangement of greenery and a cared-for apple tree.
For me, it reads as an encapsulation, and not an unambiguously positive one either, of the High Line itself, a former elevated rail line abandoned, and then after years of neglect, turned into this hip, highly cultivated park and thoroughfare.
We walked south and came upon Barbara Kruger's foreboding pronouncement, which we rather appropriately couldn't see from first approach, and then had to look backward to view clearly.
Continuing on, we faced another forboding pronouncement from Kathryn Andrews.
Beyond this point, you may encounter nude sunbathers, but you will probably just encounter delicious popsicles and lots of people with cameras.
But if you keep going, you will definitely encounter Tony Matelli's disquieting Sleepwalker.
It's life-sized, hyperrealistic, and is constantly abuzz with people interacting with it.
I couldn't help but think about what it might be like to come upon this piece alone with no one around, maybe at night, and how different the effect would be.
But during regular busy hours, it still made me uneasy.
It still made me ask, what are we all doing here walking along this narrow, crowded pathway?
Are we awake to this experience or to any?
I like the High Line.
I really do.
It gives you a pedestrian experience in New York, uninterrupted by cars and utterly distinct from Central Park.
It gives you great views of the city, of neighborhoods experiencing tremendous change, development, and skyrocketing property values caused in part by the success of this thing that you're walking on.
Like any human-made thing, it has flaws and repercussions, but you can get your feet wet, and there's an odd little theater for watching traffic.
And it has an active art program that presents new and usually interesting installations that make me return to the place again and again and to get to know the place and the city in different ways.
We ended the day in Grand Army Plaza at the southeast corner of Central Park to see David Shrigley's giant shopping list.
It's a cheeky counterpoint to the neighboring William Tecumseh Sherman Memorial.
There we have a formal gilded bronze monument to a Civil War general.
Just beyond that, we have a monument of luxury hotels.
But here we have a giant monument to the every day, engraved in a solid slab of granite.
Like good public art, it directs your attention to that which surrounds it and you and makes you look with different eyes at the people surrounding you-- the scrum of diverse individuals, many tourists, but just as many going about their everyday routine.
Then we lost our light and had to call it a day.
The next day, we were already in Queens, so we decided to go to Socrates Sculpture Park.
It's a stunning perch from which to look at Manhattan, but it is also a tremendous exhibition space that gives artists at many career stages opportunities to make large scale outdoor work.
I wanted to see Meg Webster's Concave Room for Bees, which I was a bit dubious of, as artists' attempts to harness nature are too often underwhelming.
But I should have remembered that Webster has been doing this kind of work since before a bunch of social practice artists gave it a bad name.
She's been making successful, thoughtful projects using natural materials since the 1970s.
Anyway, this piece does the thing it's supposed to do-- attract bees-- and does it marvelously.
You can't hear it, but this space was buzzing and teeming with bees and butterflies and abundant life.
Bravo, Meg Webster.
Show them how it's done.
Socrates Sculpture Park came to be 30 years ago when a group of artists and community members led by sculptor, Mark di Suvero, transformed an old landfill and illegal dump site into an open studio, outdoor museum, residency program, and local park.
Their Emerging Artist Fellowship Exhibition was just being installed, which I really wish I could have seen completed, but was glad to at least get a peek at.
We then took the world's longest Uber ride to Brooklyn Bridge Park to check out Mary Mattingly's Swale, a floating garden that made me further reconsider my condemnation of artists who try to grow things.
It's a giant floating platform containing a garden of edible plants, currently docked at Pier 6, but which has moved to several sites around the city.
It provides free produce to those who stop by, as well as educational resources about how food forests can be awesome and benefit everyone, but which have been illegal on New York City's public land for almost a century.
Not technically on public land, Swale is an end-around that will hopefully spur a reconsideration of the rules while spreading healthy food and goodwill in the process.
At the end of Pier 6 was Martin Creed's Understanding, another fine commission by the Public Art Fund.
It stands before a tremendous backdrop, the city of New York, and its message is at once simple and expansive.
The city is awash in signs, and those who work here in the public realm are well aware of it.
Creed's sign is monumental and unmissable in bright red neon that I wish I'd also witnessed at night.
Understanding, it seems, is a thing that spins, that snaps in and out of focus.
It's the thing we desperately seek and a thing that art is supposed to facilitate.
And it looks different and more distorted the closer you are to it.
It's moving, and you're moving.
It's impossible to pin down, and it's as good a moment as any to conclude our brief venture into this remarkable, indecipherable, and ever-changing city.