Swimmers are not exactly synonymous with Park Avenue, but nine artistic ones can now be found there on a five-block stretch.
The swimwear-clad sculptures are reflective of a lifetime’s work by New York-based artist Carole Feuerman. Hours before Thursday’s official unveiling, she described how “Sea Idylls” came to be and how her hyper-realistic creations aren’t what they appear to be.
Installed along the Park Avenue medians between 34th and 39th Streets, the life-size sculptures will be on view through the end of the year. The al fresco show was organized with the support of the Patrons of Park Avenue, the Murray Hill Neighborhood Association and the City of New York, and through Galleries Bartoux, which represents her. Having created about 40 swimmer sculptures over the past 55 years, Feuerman is often working on different projects simultaneously. Sculpture was not something she studied while enrolled at the School of Visual Arts, “but I have been doing art since I was 3 years old; I did a painting on a pillow with shoe polish in my mother’s kitchen. Needless to say, she almost beat me.”
Her own experience as a 21-year-old single mother with three children led to an artistic awakening. Feuerman said she found peace by taking them to the beach and watching them play in the sand. “The children were happy. I was happy. The water and the sun refresh you,” the artist said. “One day I saw this woman coming out of the water with water drops dripping down her face. She looked amazing. She wasn’t a young woman like most of my sculptures are. She was probably 30. But to me, at 21, that was old.”
That sighting prompted Feuerman to create a sculpture of a woman who was strong, brave and proud, titled “Catalina.” She explained, “It was like a break-through, because I identified with that woman.”
Feuerman will unveil an exhibition at the Palazzo Bonaporte in Naples, Italy, on May 23 that will be on view through Oct. 8. That exhibit will feature the ”Survival of Serena” sculpture of a weary-looking woman holding onto an inner tube, which was inspired by an image of immigrants floating in the water en route to Key West, Florida, from Cuba. It debuted at the gates of the 2007 Venice Biennale. “The sculpture was so popular that people waited in line to kiss it. The official magazine of the Biennale put it on their cover so everybody thought I was part of the Biennale. It worked out really great,” Feuerman said.
As for the life-likeness of her art, Feuerman said that is a matter of perception. She no longer uses a real model — copying each freckle and vein — to create her work, as she once did. With one exception, the artist has imagined the tanks, bikinis, surf shirts and other swimwear in her art. A few years ago, a London-based swimwear Sama Danesh designer approached the artist to use one of her swimsuits as inspiration for “Pisces.” (The brand has been worn by Paris Hilton, model Kate Upton and other notables.) The fact that Danesh started and runs her own company appealed to the artist. That sculpture of a woman dangling her feet is one of the pieces on view on Park Avenue.
The work isn’t about lazy days poolside or bodysurfing at the beach. On East 37th Street, “Justice,” the stainless steel sculpture of a woman atop a large sphere, was inspired by “Lady Justice.” When pedestrians look in the sphere, they will see reflections of themselves and their environs — as in justice throughout the land. “The sphere represents the world,” Feuerman said. “The sculptures are not really about the swimwear, the girl or swimming. It’s about the meaning behind what I am doing.”
Galleries Bartoux is spotlighting her work in a 50-piece exhibition that also includes a replica of her Bushwick, Brooklyn, studio. Last fall Feuerman received a lifetime achievement award from Le Soleil Foundation in Athens, Greece. Former New York Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney presented the award to her.
Being a member of the International Women’s Forum, which has members in 34 countries, is one of the artist’s greatest accolades. Last week the artist did a signing of her audiobook “My Hyperrealist Life and Legacy” at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books and won an honorable mention. With “a full life under her belt,” Feuerman is going to be the subject of a documentary about a “female artist surviving in a man’s world.” Filmmaker Ken Sax of Fortune Cookies Productions is at work on the project. ”He’s filming me now,” Feuerman said.