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I just got back from a stroll through Times Square. Now, as a New York resident going about her daily lunchtime routine, I would normally avoid Times Square at all costs, zigging and zagging down side streets in an effort to circumvent the crush of humanity clogging sidewalks and intersections. News that an errand involves a trip along Broadway anywhere between 42nd and 50th Streets has tended to elicit a deep sigh and a mental run-through of best times and routes; theater outings have involved scooting in and out of subway entrances on the district’s perimeter.
Although today, following a late morning meeting a few blocks north on Broadway, I found myself turning toward the heart of Times Square, thinking, “Let’s see what’s going on there.” Truth is, I’ve found myself actually wanting to walk through Times Square ever since a segment of Broadway became a pedestrian-only zone a year or so ago. The idea that New Yorkers greeted with profound skepticism has transformed Times Square — in a good way.
Visiting John Salvest’s art installation, IOU/USA in Kansas City during a weekend trip, my companions and I were startled to see a wedding party pull up to the site, on a grassy hill in front of the Federal Reserve Bank near downtown. But not as surprised as we were to see a second wedding party pull up within minutes. Evidently, according to the volunteer on duty at the info table, the installation, consisting of 105 multicolored, empty shipping containers spelling out IOU on one side (facing the Fed) and USA on the other, has become a popular spot for wedding photos.
The brochure that volunteer has been handing out includes a quote from the artist about his inspiration. “Each third grader in the tour group was given a Money Museum Fun Guide and a little green box of colored pencils. Printed on one side of the box was Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and on the other Made in China.”
Stacy Switzer, artistic director of Grand Arts, the gallery curating Salvest’s work, writes in the same materials, “Artworks rarely solve problems, but people do, and the questions embedded in IOU/USA suggest a long overdue reckoning. What am I part of? What do we owe? Why should we owe it? Is America still a nation of opportunity?”
More questions then: Do the couples having their romantic moment photographed near the installation grasp the potential meanings and incongruities in the site? Are they making a political statement? An artistic one? Are they creating a protest photo, skewering the impracticality of spending tens of thousands on a celebration during times of economic turmoil, and the whole, our-of-control Bridezilla-fueled wedding industrial complex? Or are they just clueless?
One has to wonder, since IOU has brought a stream of wedding parties. It would be nice to think that the couples are attaching some larger meaning to the site choice. But then again, they’ve pulled up in private limos and trolleys, trailing groups of attendants dressed in finery not likely produced in the USA. Perhaps, as one of my companions surmised, the whole thing has been organized by the photographers, making a mockery of the very process that feeds them (and planning to sell their art print versions of some shots on the side.)
So cynical are we.