Seward Johnson’s Sculptures Bring Fun to The Garment District


This is truly a boom time for public art in New York City, by far the busiest summer that I can ever remember, with crowd-pleasing full-scale exhibitions and whimsical (though still monumental) sculptures on display all over town. From the Park Avenue median to Madison Square Park to Governors Island; from Brooklyn Bridge Park to the High Line to the Coney Island boardwalk (and literally dozens more prime spots), public art has never been more prevalent as we move through our daily lives in this big, beautiful city. The latest entry into this never-too-crowded field is a series of 18 life-sized sculptures of people by the renowned artist Seward Johnson, located on the surprisingly pleasant pedestrian plaza along Broadway in what is still called the Garment District, basically between Herald Square and Times Square. 


Seward Johnson in New York

I strolled along the plaza the other day to check out the exhibition, and though Johnson's style isn't really my thing, the sculptures work really well in the bustling, cluttered space, nestled among the tables and overflowing planters. There are three main components to show. Starting at the southern end of things at 36th Street (just north of the Broadway Bites vendors, in case you need a snack) are a handful of Johnson's "Celebrating the Familiar" pieces, which are slightly-creepy looking versions of, for example, an old-fashioned hot dog seller, a couple of self-important business guys in suits, suburbanites taking family snapshots, and an older woman lugging her groceries home. Although there's nothing abstract or impressionistic about these pieces, I wouldn't really call them life-like, either, both because the fashion and style is so outdated, and also the faces are just pod-people dead. Still though, they're pretty cool hanging among present-day, real-life New Yorkers, like bewildered time travelers, or aliens who didn't quite get the "blend-in" look right.                


Marilyn and Friends Move Into the Garment District

Next up is a sampling from Johnson's "Beyond the Frame" series, in which the artist takes people from well-known paintings, usually familiar Impressionist works, and sets them free to dance, romance, or stand there glowering from under a big umbrella. There are a few curve balls here as well, such as the one of Claude Monet painting the Deuce. Finally there are a few of Johnson's "Icons Revisited" works: Marilyn Monroe getting her dress blown up over a subway grate; the American Gothic couple looking completely out of place here in the big city; and the world's most famous smooch, when a sailor grabbed a nurse during the V-J Day euphoria in Times Square. These last were especially popular for selfies and photo-ops. It's all more than a little cheesy, but it's also just light summertime fun, so I'm not going to get too cranky about it.      


Where To Find Seward Johnson's Sculptures

The 18 sculptures of Seward Johnson In New York are located on Broadway's pedestrian plaza between 36th and 41st Street, and will be in place through September 15.


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