A 25-foot-tall fluorescent pink tree, a sculpture by the Swiss conceptual artist Pamela Rosenkranz, will land on New York’s High Line next April like a synthetic being, rising amid its budding-green brethren where the elevated park bridges 10th Avenue at West 30th Street. Reading as a tree (but obviously artificial), this rendition will have visceral qualities, with branches tapering into blood vessels and roots reaching over the earthen-clad plinth as though poised for flight.
“The whole tree might remind us of an organ,” said the artist, 43, who is based in Zurich and is the winner of the third High Line Plinth commission, a rotating program for monumental public artworks on view for 18 months at a time. (The first artists were Simone Leigh and Sam Durant.) Rosenkranz’s work, “Old Tree,” was selected from 80 proposals solicited from artists in 40 countries, nominated by international advisers and posted on the High Line’s website in 2020 for public feedback.
Digitally merging scans of actual trees with those of human circulatory systems and muscles, Rosenkranz fabricated an armature in metal on which she is sculpting layers of tactile polymer, tinted with pigments of vivid reddish pinks. “This color has a history of being quite attractive,” she said in an interview, “but I’m looking for a dissonance, something that also awakes or repulses.”
She was inspired by Louise Bourgeois’s monumental sculptures of spiders when designing her tree’s animated roots that appear to be scrambling from the plinth. “There’s a bit of a humoristic aspect,” she said, “as if the tree would like to leave its planter.”
Cecilia Alemani, director and chief curator of High Line Art, said, “Pamela’s project generated quite an enthusiastic response and was certainly one of the most beloved, which helped inform the short list and final choice.” (Alemani was also curator of this year’s Venice Biennale, where she included Leigh’s High Line commission “Brick House” in the exhibition “The Milk of Dreams.”)
Alemani emphasized the importance of transparency in the awarding of the high-profile commission, visible not only to the eight million annual visitors to the High Line but also to street traffic below. “It’s part of the ethos of this project to open up discussions around what we want to see celebrated in these big public spaces,” she said. Later in the spring, the site of the High Line Plinth will be connected by a new elevated pathway to Moynihan Train Hall, improving pedestrian access.
When “Old Tree” is unveiled, it will be the most prominent presentation to date in the United States for Rosenkranz, who filled the Swiss Pavilion at the 2015 Venice Biennale with a scented and viscous pool of pale flesh-toned liquid and who explores the human desire to anthropomorphize our surroundings in her sculptures, paintings, videos and installations. Her work asks existential questions, said Alemani, “like ‘What is our relationship with nature?’ and ‘Can we imagine a world where humans are no longer at the apex of the pyramid?’”