That street art doesn’t last forever is in the nature of the art form. I would even go so far as to say that it being ephemeral is a large part of street art’s appeal. All the more reason to appreciate it – come tomorrow, it could be gone. But every now and then, a piece slips under the radar and, remarkably, survives. One such survivor was Leon Reid’s Fleur D’acier #2 (Flower of Steel #2), which he’d installed in 2002. I’d noticed it had disappeared at some point in recent months and this past weekend I found myself in the unhappy position of breaking the news to Leon. This morning he emailed me his thoughts on the demise of this piece, which I’m happy to share with you below.
“Walking through Williamsburg the other day, I explained to Luna Park that my street work in New York City lasted far longer than my street work in London. Never in New York had I seen one of my sculptures removed within the same day and hour of installation; London changed that for me (see The Kiss). During my stay in the British capital (2003-04), I installed work throughout the streets and watched in horror as piece after piece was removed – quickly and without a trace. As an example of New York’s graffiti and street art tolerance, I cited one of my most enduring works, Fleur D’acier #2.
ME: “My flower over there wouldn’t last two seconds if it was installed it in London.”
LUNA: “Awww man! I was sad to see that one go!”
LUNA: “Yeah.. I thought you knew…it was taken down about a month ago.”
When I installed Fleur D’acier #2 in the Fall of 2002, New York City had recently observed 9/11’s first anniversary, Brooklyn was still largely avoided by artists and tourists, neither venturing further East than the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and I had just celebrated my 23rd birthday, heartbroken over being dumped by my first love.
At the intersection of Broadway and Rodney St. in Brooklyn, there is a large stretch of concrete in the shape of a triangle. The space is a vacuum by New York standards; no news boxes, street signs, adverts, vagrants or vendors of any kind. Above are the elevated subway tracks along Broadway, the J/M/Z trains race overhead, below is the Brooklyn-Queens-Expressway humming with auto traffic. I installed the flower in the middle of the concrete triangle, so that pedestrians could appreciate it from all angles. I assumed the flower would be removed within days, my assumption proved wrong for nine years.
Nine years is a time span not uncommon for permanent public sculpture, yet it is truly rare for a street art sculpture to last that amount of time. I never took this fact for granted. Every week, month, year that I approached the flower from Broadway, I would get a tingling sensation in my stomach just before. Once I saw the top of the flower bulb, the tingling was replaced with warmth.
Of the three steel flowers I installed in New York between 2002-03, (hence Fleur D‘acier #2), #2 was exceptional. Not only was it the largest – height about 6 ft 2 in – but I injected far more nuance and complexity into the form than the others. I had the time and the motive; newly graduated from college, single, and looking for work and love in all the wrong places.
Soon after, Brad Downey showed a picture of the flower to REVS. The man reportedly gave two words in response: “That’s tough.” Others used the flower for their own interventions. Swoon told me that she observed an old lady dropping a circle of bread crumbs around the flower. She watched the lady watching the birds fly to the flower, fly away, and back again in some kind of rhythmic ceremony. This would happen every week or so and explained the crumbs scattered at the base. At one point, somebody spray painted the flower red and yellow apparently attempting to give color to the then rusted surface.
Over the years, I used the flower perhaps for more selfish reasons, occasionally showing it to a potential girlfriends – it often worked! – I took my wife to see it during the courting stages. Some reasons were not so selfish. This summer I “showed” the flower to a blind woman from France, I lead her hand toward the base and stood by while she appreciated the steel details – bottom to top – through touch.
While the flower was up, hundreds of thousand, maybe millions of people passed by it. A percentage of those people saw it, and a percentage of those people saw it and had thoughts about it. I am deeply interested in collecting those thoughts, from the surrounding community and beyond. I believe your thoughts about Fleur D’acier #2 will help current and future scholarship about the subject of graffiti and street art. If anyone is interested please send an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Your remarks are greatly appreciated.