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The Elephant in Greenwich Village: Provocative Public Art

Nina Potischman

Jun 11, 2022

When the NYC Parks Department announced they would remove a number of animal sculptures from New York playgrounds, people revolted. In response, the city created the first “NYC Parks Home for Retired Animals” in Queens, where NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver says New Yorkers can, “come stop by and say hello to an old friend!”

For artist Kristina Libby, this public response is indicative of the unique emotional relationship people have with animal related art. “I can think of almost nothing comparable, where people are so angry that the city actually creates a response like that,” Libby says. “When you look, you realize that there are actually animals everywhere in New York, in all kinds of buildings. I found that fascinating.”

Henry J. Stern, a former New York Commissioner, is responsible for a substantial number of these statues. His work served as inspiration for Libby’s newest project, In Plain Site, an animal focused public installation in Greenwich Village. I took a call with the artist a day after the show began to discuss her interest in animal related art, the story behind her “Chunkos,” and her desire for viewers to learn to “live bigger.”

“We really wanted to do something that would bring joy and spontaneity and surprise to the neighborhood,” Libby explains, referring to her collaboration with the Greenwich Village Alliance. “Even when we just give animals a name, or a jacket, we identify with them in a different way. It wakes people up from their basic experiences. Why is this animal in the middle of Astor place? It has an enlightening quality.”

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