Art Out: American Circus
Times Square. Few other places in New York conjure up such strong feelings. For residents, those feelings range from irritation to revulsion. For tourists, it’s a must-see falling somewhere on their itinerary between the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State building. From the unwashed hordes to stores that can be found in any mall to the neon sorcery decking every block, there’s no question that Times Square is a repository of excess in every way. Whether you find it distasteful or endearing, there’s no denying its pull, even if your personal contact with it is limited to TV on New Year’s Eve or, for locals, a train transfer on its many platforms. For better or for worse, Times Square is here to stay. Fortunately for this institution, artist and satirist Federico Solmi believes it can be used for better.
Armed with an LED and a diagnosis of American excess, Solmi partnered with Times Square Arts to capture the symptoms of a nation’s collective malaise in a stunning collage he calls American Circus. Lights play a primary part in this piece, the more neon the better. Colors of all shades are lit up to reveal a psychedelic dreamscape of Eiffel towers, clowns, 99 cent bargains, and more on a screen that never sleeps and yet is only awake three minutes a day. That’s right, Solmi’s Circus takes to the Jumbotrons of Times Square for a mere three minutes a day, from 11:57 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. all throughout July.
It’s a strange hour, to be sure. A crowd composed of Broadway enthusiasts waiting for Ubers, shopping stragglers, tourists determined to squeeze every drop from their vacations, and all the rest, dressed up with nowhere else to be. What else is there in New York at midnight? If they knew, they wouldn’t be there. A captive audience baited to Times Square by the very electronic delights caricatured so garishly in Solmi’s display. After hours of commercials on every side, plying exactly what you’d expect, the show begins. Walls of color swirl around the square, relieving the omnipresent advertisements from their duties, at least for a few minutes. The effect is not immediate, but, like the wave at any sporting event, it catches up to everyone. Some stop and stare. Others keep walking but continue to glance upward, hoping to catch any updates. Those most taken by the piece pull out their phones and take pictures and videos to share with their friends and family who didn’t have the privilege of being there themselves.
As the world premiere in a series called The Great Farce, Solmi’s American Circus could not have found a better place to make its debut. The crowds may have some catching up to do with their ecstatic doppelgängers who fill the Circus bleachers, but that may be the point. We haven’t yet reached the complete chromatic saturation suggested by American Circus but by following the pretty colors of the lights, we’ll surely get there. The question Solmi asks us is: do we want to?