Following the paltry snowfall’s transition into a slippery sheet of ice across the city, New Yorkers have gone from celebrating the end of a 700-day “snow drought” to manifesting the end of an Arctic blast that has us yearning for the balmy days of a long-gone December. Those looking for a glimmer of hope to carry them until spring might just find it in the Flat Iron District of all places — nestled within layers of brightly colored tulle livening up Madison Square Park for the next two months.
Denver-based Argentine artist Ana María Hernando brings the unsung material to lofty heights in “To Let the Sky Know/Dejar que el cielo sepa” (2024), the first of four installations to kick off the 20th anniversary of the Madison Square Park Conservancy’s art program, on view through March 17. Fifteen fluffy circular cloud shapes in vibrant sunrise hues hover over two lawns with organic, translucent edges that contrast with the barren trees and a view of the Empire State Building, while a trio of tufted and knotted pastel-colored tulle sculptures sway softly in the frigid breeze in the park’s north side.
For Hernando, extracting tulle from its role of obscuring a woman’s body or face and embellishing her silhouette throughout fashion history and bringing it to the forefront of her work is a matter of subverting what softness means within the parameters of femininity. In presenting this supportive, under-layer material in abundance, the artist notes that the installation “speaks loudly, because to be soft doesn’t mean to be weak.”
Hernando hails from a textiles-oriented family in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and celebrates the trade’s notions of collaboration and empowerment through voluminous sculptures and installations. Recalling the social nature of sewing with generations of women during her childhood as well as the combined efforts the artist enlists in to facilitate her own projects, Hernando hopes that the park project blossoms as “a habitat for the lonely during the dark days of winter in the world.”
The artist told Hyperallergic that she was born in the spring and loves color, and that she’s looking to bring people together through the installation infused with uplifting energy in both a literal and metaphorical sense. Speaking on her process, Hernando likened the act of layering and shaping the fabric to “painting with ink due to its transparent nature and [physical] flexibility.”
Considering that the sun still sets before in-person workers across Manhattan have a chance to embark on their evening commute, and that absurdly forceful winds have been lifting people off their feet, the Conservancy specified that the installation is equipped with hidden lights for nighttime enjoyment and that a dedicated maintenance crew is committed to “fluffing” and primping the installation throughout its two-month display.