“In this piece I wanted to bring the activity and the feel of the studio into public space as an experience. The public gets to ‘see’ the work both from the outside as an image but then also from the inside as an insight into its construction. It becomes a kind of retreat from the city but also a porous viewing space. The public becomes part of the experience of looking and also an integral part of the work.”
—Thomas Houseago (1972– , British artist, he was the creative force behind “Mask (Pentagon)” )
For several years the Public Art Fund and Tishman Speyer, owners of Rockefeller Center, have brought over-sized works of art to Rockefeller Plaza. Last year it was Split Rocker by Jeff Koons. This year the work on display is Masks (Pentagon) by Thomas Houseago. It can be seen from April 28 to June 24.
Open to the public free of charge, this sight-specific work of art was designed for Rockefeller Plaza. Masks (Pentagon) is made up of five masks; they span a height range of 14.5 to 16.5 feet. Each is a different idea about how to represent a stylized human face. One is clearly recognizable as such, while another is very abstract, with three versions in between. The spaces between each gigantic face form passageways that allow visitors access to the “room” created by the masks. From this room, the masks’ eyes create windows that frame views of the cityscape and skyscrapers that surround them.
“Without wearing any mask we are conscious of, we have a special face for each friend.”
—Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (1809–1894)
“Virtue has a veil, vice a mask.” —Victor Hugo (1802–1885)
The five masks are castings from clay molds, using industrial-strength synthetic plaster. They rest on a three-stepped base made from unfinished redwood beams. The artist’s goal was give the visitor a view into his method of creation. At the back of each mask can be seen an armature in the form of a grid. Some have compared the overall effect of the work to an ancient temple, whose function has been forgotten. The rough, unfinished quality of the work is a hallmark of Mr. Houseago’s style.
“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”
—Oscar Wilde (1854–1900)
The morning I visited, Masks (Pentagon) was not attracting any attention from passers-by, certainly not as much as the annual Christmas tree does. Masks (Pentagon) stands in the exact spot where the Christmas tree is erected each year.
“The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask.”
—Jim Morrison (1943–1971)
“Masked, I advance.” ―René Descartes (1596–1650)