© NY Times 06/15/10 http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/0...hings/?emc=eta1
June 15, 2010, 10:56 am
Pianos as Public Art, and the Public’s Playthings
By JAMES BARRON
Corinna Berthould, a volunteer with the “Play Me, I’m Yours” street-piano project, at a piano-painting party on Monday. Photographs by Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times Corinna Berthould, a volunteer with the “Play Me, I’m Yours” street-piano project, at a piano-painting party on Monday.
Jerome Ware Jr. pressed his palm into a tray of orange paint. Then he found exactly the right spot for a handprint on the top of an upright piano he had just painted gold.
“Contrasts, that’s what I’m going for,” he said.
Jerome, 16, was painting one of 60 pianos that will hit the city’s streets next Monday as part of a public art project called “Play Me, I’m Yours” (see map below). On corners, in parks, the pianos will be an eyeful as well as an earful, with attention-getting cases and living-color keys — green or blue, or all black instead of the usual allotment of 52 white and 36 black.
So before the whole city finds out who needs to brush up on the “Minuet in G,” volunteers have been putting brushes to the pianos.
Tarique Smith, 18, and others work on a piano. Tarique Smith, 18, and others work on a piano.
The nonprofit arts group behind the project, Sing for Hope, is betting that transforming the pianos into something to see as well as something to hear will make the installation as captivating as art installations like “the Gates,” the orange gates and matching draperies that stretched across Central Park in 2005, or the four-waterfall exhibit on the East River in 2008. Painting the pianos also brought back memories of the fiberglass cows that took up residence here in the summer of 2000.
Sing for Hope says the pianos can be like interactive cows. You could look at the cows, but they didn’t even moo. These pianos are all playable.
But pianos contain a lot of wood. Wood swells up in damp weather. And what if it rains?
Sing for Hope has a plastic tarp to pull over each piano and a “piano buddy,” a volunteer assigned to keep an eye on the weather and beat that cloudburst, just like the grounds crews at Yankee Stadium.
And just in case anyone was tempted to walk off with a piano, each one will come with an antitheft device: a cinder-block chained to the case.
Camille Zamora, a co-founder of Sing for Hope, got the idea for a piano installation when she read about the British artist Luke Jerram. To drawn Londoners out of their urban shells, he put 30 pianos on streets there last year. Ms. Zamora sent him an e-mail message that said: “This is a tangible example of what we’re trying to do. Can we bring this to New York City?”
MatisseSophie Matisse, granddaughter of the painter, at work.
He said yes.
But first Sing for Hope had to find the pianos. The ones it found would qualify for a “cash for clunkers” program if there were one for pianos. Ms. Zamora said most were donated, some from warehouses as far away as Ohio. They were a mishmash of all-but-forgotten and second-tier piano brands: Lesters, Krakauers, Chickerings, a Wurlitzer, a Story and Clark, a Kimball. Some were made in New York: a Winter, for example, took shape in a factory in Brooklyn a generation or two ago.
They were hauled to a staging area at 32 Avenue of the Americas, and the painters set to work — grownups who volunteered as well as school groups like Jerome’s that had worked with Sing for Hope, a program that sends professional artists to perform in classroom settings.
By Friday afternoon, some of the pianos looked Pollock-esque, with paint thrown on the wooden cases. Others were decorated with elaborate brush strokes. One had sculpture on top that formed a cityscape of tall buildings. There was even a streetlight positioned to light the music rack, for performers who bring along sheet music they haven’t quite memorized yet.
“We want communities where the pianos go to feel the pianos are theirs, that you don’t have to take 20 years of lessons,” Ms. Zamora said. “People are frightened to touch pianos. They don’t want to embarrass themselves.”
One of the artists at work was Sophie Matisse. Pianos and painting seem to run in her family. Her great-grandfather, Henri Matisse, painted “The Piano Lesson” in 1916. Of course, his was oil on canvas, and hers was water-based enamel on a Kimball.
“I love painting objects,” Ms. Matisse said. “And to do this on a three-dimensional surface is a challenge. It’s all about angles and surfaces, and learning.”
She said she did not read music. And across the room, Jerome said that he did not play the piano. But he said he would track down the one with his handprint, wherever Sing for Hope sent it during the two-week run of “Play Me, I’m Yours.”
“My sister wants to see it,” he said, “and I’ll dabble at the keyboard.”