The Brazilian-born sculptor is making his New York public art debut with a trail of bold, large-scale works along Broadway.
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If you’ve been out for Fashion Week, you may have noticed some new scenery: seven large-scale sculptures crawling up Broadway from Columbus Circle to Washington Heights. The man behind the mysterious installations? Saint Clair Cemin, a Brazilian-born artist who has cherry-picked some of his finest works from around the world for his New York public art debut this month.
The sculptures are presented by Paul Kasmin Gallery and the Broadway Mall Association. The gallery will also present an exhibition of the artist’s work, from September 6 to October 13; the outdoor exhibit runs through mid-November.
First, tell us about that giant swirling tower of yours near Columbus Circle. Vortex—I am still in awe at it. The piece is 40 feet tall and is standing on Broadway between 57th and 58th Streets. It’s stainless steel, so it’s like a giant mirror taking in all of its environment—the people, the lights of Broadway, the surroundings—and twisting and turning them and bringing them all together up to heaven. To see it in place is incredible. Nobody can miss it, that’s for sure.
How did you begin making large-scale sculptures?
I started sculpting in 1983. I was making small objects, and then, in 1990, I had the opportunity to make a 28-foot marble and bronze fountain in Reston, Virginia. The experience of making this public piece was important for me, and led to my doing other public work around the world. Public art is a magical thing; it changes the environment and does something to people.
Do you have a specific source of inspiration?
All of my work comes from same source: the desire to give art all the freedom it needs to make things happen. I don’t give to any piece a specific meaning. I think the meaning is always to be completed by the viewer.
Do you design the large pieces digitally?
It’s all done by hand, measure, and eye. I execute the sculptures the traditional way, beginning with a clay model followed by a mold in plaster, and then the finishing material, whether it’s bronze, stone, or steel. I like to work in many different materials, like a chef.
How did you match the pieces to the locations?
Everything is a function of the space. We chose the locations first and then placed the exhibition pieces where they fit best. All of the pieces had been previously shown, so we had to transport many of them from abroad, but most had only been shown indoors. Seeing them outside was really impressive.
How long did it take you to install them?
We actually did the whole thing in one night, for security reasons. We started from the bottom, beginning with the largest one, Vortex; it took us from 10 p.m. until 3:30 a.m.