Yesterday I saw a young man performing amazing feats of gymnastics with his bicycle on top of this SW 5th Avenue sculpture. The bike itself was designed with no seat. Here he is taking a minute to assess the sculpture and prepare for a jump:
Here he jumps his bike up the side of the statue:
I did not get any pictures showing the acrobatics that he performed with his bicycle on top of the sculpture, for reasons I will explain in a moment. But I can say that he used the sculpture in an unexpected and creative way. The rock became a platform on which he spun, danced, hopped, stopped dead still, turned, sometimes on one wheel, sometimes two. It was similar to parkour, but on a bicycle. His feet never touched the statue – they stayed on the pedals the entire time.
Here he has just jumped his bike to the higher level:
A few people were stopping to watch him.
Just when the performer was about to jump onto the sculpture again, a woman walked up and physically confronted him. She began yelling that he was abusing a work of public art.
I could not hear his response, but he appeared to stay calm and not engage with her. A moment later, he rode his bike away, so I do not know who he was.
A bit of internet research told me about the sport called street trials, also referred to as bike trials, or riding trials. Here it is:
So. I am pondering many questions about all this. If the sculptor had been there, what would s/he thought of this use of the sculpture? Was the performance degrading to, or compromising the integrity of, the sculpture? What if a trained ballerina wanted to perform atop of it – maybe the young man with his bike was equally creative and entertaining? I have seen people sitting on the sculpture, and smoking next to it – are these acceptable uses? What if someone wanted to draw on it with chalk, or tie a large ribbon around it?
Of course, there are safety and liability issues galore. As my dinner companion jokingly suggested last night, maybe public art should be surrounded with fences and warning signs. One of my favorite movies is Man on Wire. Why walk a tightrope between two skyscrapers? Why climb a mountain or cross the Atlantic in a rowboat? It’s not for me personally, but I am glad there are people who joyfully explore the world this way. Next time I walk by the sculpture on 5th Avenue, I will see it in a whole new light.